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Draft audit cites Schenectady on certain inspections

Draft audit cites Schenectady on certain inspections

Reliance on voluntary compliance criticized
Draft audit cites Schenectady on certain inspections
A Schenectady aerial platform truck pours water on ice-caked cars in front of 100-104 Jay St. in March 2015.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

SCHENECTADY — The city must improve how it inspects and tracks larger apartment buildings, according to a draft of an audit from the state Comptroller's Office.

The report focuses on buildings with three or more apartments and found that the city Codes Department only tracked a small portion of the buildings and failed to ensure that each is inspected within a state-required three-year cycle.

Instead, the city's system relies on apartment owners to voluntarily sign up for inspections upon change of tenant in a unit or change of ownership of the building itself.

"Relying on voluntary compliance is an improper way to conduct an inspection program. ... Further, as our audit results indicate, it does not seem reasonable that property owners with violations would ask for inspections," the draft report reads.

Such a system results in violations that go uncorrected, decline in housing quality and "significantly increases the safety risks" to residents, the report reads.

The report, obtained by The Daily Gazette, is dated in January and allowed for the city to file a response. A final report is due out later.

Mayor Gary McCarthy and Public Safety Commissioner Michael C. Eidens declined to comment on the draft report Thursday, but confirmed that the city has filed its response.

News of the draft report comes as former city housing inspector Kenneth Tyree stands trial on criminally negligent homicide charges, accused of failing to properly inspect the 20-unit 104 Jay St. building on March 5, 2015. 

An inoperable fire alarm system failed to warn residents the next morning when a fire broke out and missing fire doors helped the fire spread. Four people died and dozens of others were hurt.

In the case of the 104 Jay St. inspection, the visit was triggered by the sale of the building the previous October and the new building manager informed the city and requested the inspection.

The draft report is also dated the same month that the Building Department was placed under the public safety commissioner; Assistant Police Chief Jack Falvo named the department's head. McCarthy has called the change in leadership an attempt to fix issues in the Building Department.

The Comptroller's Office examined Schenectady and five other municipalities. The Schenectady audit covered inspection records for multiple-unit properties for a period spanning Jan. 1, 2015, to Feb. 21, 2017, a period that included the Jay Street fire.

The audit found improvement needed in fire safety and property maintenance inspections for multi-unit buildings. Current law doesn't require a full multi-unit property list, inspections within three years or monitoring procedures.

Records show 47 percent of multi-unit apartment buildings haven't been inspected in the previous three years. The city also maintained a list of 94 large apartment complexes, but potential multi-unit buildings show as many as 1,440.

The audit did find adequate procedures for inspection documentation, noting a comprehensive checklist, and proper timeframes for follow-up on violations. But the city lacks the property list and a way to ensure the inspections happen.

The Comptroller's Office dug into the list of potential multi-unit buildings and found that 756, or 53 percent, had been inspected within three years. But 684 others had no indication of that.

The office also looked at samplings from both categories. Of 20 properties that hadn't been inspected in three years, the auditors found five had no documentation that an inspection had ever occurred. Eleven others had inspections outside the three years ranging from 3 years, 3 months to 12 years prior. Four properties were vacant.

The comptroller's recommendations from the draft audit:

  • Update local law to ensure compliance with minimum fire safety and property maintenance requirements
  • Adopt a written policy for inspections of multi-unit buildings to ensure inspections, follow-ups and state law compliance
  • Monitor effectiveness to ensure inspections occur as required
  • Maintain a property list and ensure it is complete through various checks.

The city is to have a written corrective action plan prepared and forwarded to the state Comptroller's Office within 90 days of the audit being finalized.

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