Monday, October 18, 2010

Building Permits. The bain of a Contractor

FYI, Iv'e been doing this for 25 years now.
Last winter, CoW and the tall fore heads there had an idea. They probably had more than one, but this one stood out. Gord Steves likened the idea to a "car safety". The City was going to report to a new purchaser whether or not building permits had been issued on their property, they wanted to provide a zoning memorandum, and wanted a new survey for every land transfer. Apparently Deepak Joshi felt that "City staff are capable of handling the new work load and would only require a day to do this.
Ya right, and I have $250,000 some Nigerian wants to deposit into my bank account... all I need to do is...
I'm trying to APPLY for a permit to do a project. Same old... I call the Permit Technician to be clear on what I'll need to provide. I need a lot drainage plan prepared by an engineer. I retain the services of a surveyor and they do both a Building Location Certificate and a geodetic drawing. The geodetic used to be provided by the City back in the day, but they had too many problems with staff not really knowing how to work a transit, so they off loaded that. The plan (prepared by an engineer) has to go to Water and Waste for approval. We are now three weeks into the wait. I finally got the call today, and I can get my BLC and geodetic to be able to APPLY for a permit. After about 6 weeks, I'll get my permit. Then I can start.
Who has 2 months to tie up waiting for people to decide if you can do a project when the whole project should only take one month?!
Who runs that show? The "new" head of Permits and Inspections has been there since he graduated from university with his PEng, and clearly doesn't realize the problems his "crew" causes, and has no idea how to FIX the problem.
Here's how it worked BEFORE. By before, I mean before this "new and improved" system came into effect. when PP&D moved into Fort Garry Place from the Hamilton Bank Building. I do remember the permit process from the old Municipal Building formerly just south of the old Fort Garry Gate, but I was never personally involved in a way that lets me recount it.
Back in the day, you'd go to the District office with your plans. after one or two days, they call, and your plans were ready to be picked up, the area services and lot grading completed. Then you'd go to the Hamilton Bank Building and visit Zoning on the Main floor (often after picking a number). Here you got to talk to Barry, Ron, Harvey, (or if you were lucky, Sharon) and get your plan approved. A stamped drawing and an initial in the box, you were sent to the 5th floor where you saw Julian, Walter, or Brian , who reviewed the structural portion... and gave you another initial and sent you back to the main floor where you... PAID! You paid and received a PERMIT! All that in under a week!
Today, you go the Permit office in the Fort Garry Place, and if you are unlucky enough to have to pick a number, you get looked after by someone who can't actually read a blue print. Their MAIN GOAL is to SEND YOU AWAY, telling you that you don't have enough information. They ask you where the bearing walls are so they can highlight them. NEWSFLASH! If you can't find the bearing wall on a drawing YOU SHOULDN'T BE THERE READING THE DRAWINGS! It seems to be a dumping ground for "I was almost enrolled in a course to study..." people. Most of the Permit Reps visible from the front counter are completely inept. If you're lucky (as I am) you can call ahead for an appointment.
I always call the same person, although they do shuffle people around. After all, you don't want them getting too good at what they're doing. Here at least it's understood that you'd better not ask me too many stupid questions, and you'd better make sure I really need what you're asking me for before telling me you can't accept my application. After 15 to 20 minutes, I get to leave with a piece of paper that has a file number on it, and my District Inspectors name (often left blank because they need to rotate them around too, they can't find qualified help, and need to double up areas whenever someone is sick or on vacation). Now I get to...go home.
I could wait, but not in the office.   This is the much vaunted "One Stop Shop". Thing is, the only work the staff here knows is STOP! Everything Stops here... green lights, not so much. Why can't you wait for your permit? Firstly, they don't want you around there for 6 weeks... you start to smell. You see, I don't get to talk to a zoning officer any more. If they have a question, I have to wait for them to have time to ask me. If by some fluke it gets to Plan-X, they too get to have it sit on their desk until my "turn" arrives, and will send me an e-mail or give a call telling me they are looking for more info, or telling me something is "wrong". Hey... buddies... there is ALWAYS something missing and wrong. People simply CANNOT provide a drawing showing EVERY part of a house. Some of this has to be understood as conforming to good building practices. Why not just inspect it for good workmanship and Code Compliance? I have a set of drawings stamped by an engineer, approved by the City... and it's UN-BUILDABLE! I actually build the thing, and the inspector gives me a hard time for not following the plan! I point out that it's wrong and not code compliant, and he tells me I need to RESUBMIT THE DRAWING! I have to have the engineer back out to do the inspection. Why not just delete the City Inspector from the whole equation?
Lucky I'm a personable fellow... I'd be tempted to cuss at him. You people HAD YOUR CHANCE!
Here's the rub. The inspectors DON'T KNOW the code. Julian Saj said, "Inspectors are only there to ensure the building is built according to the plans submitted to the City and approved by the Plan X department". What?
You mean the clowns you have "inspecting" the place aren't capable of making judgment calls on site? I mean, really... a renovation simply cannot plan every minutia. there are literally dozens of things that need to be determined on site, and not all of them can by code compliant. These inspectors... are they really just capable of interpreting the plans?
Wanna be an inspector? You don't really need to know much... but it gives you a lot of opportunity to be a real ass. If you get off on that sort of thing, here's your big chance! Since you cannot make any substantial decisions on site, you can be a nit picker. You can find some obscure section of the code and force builders to do your bidding.
Paul Gloux (retired) used to do that. He was terrible. For a time he just focused on cross bridging. Driving down a street in a new development, you could place bets about what the red sticker was for... Later, it was house numbers, and then his favourite... questioning the value of the work as declared on the permit.
We don't get stickers anymore. Wonder why? Liability. No reason to say "Yes, it's all good" because it makes the City responsible. There's no proof it was inspected, and if the inspector is inept, he can cover his ass by lying.
Try getting an inspector out for a "building final". Good luck on a residential unit. I once tried 3 times to set appointments and finally had to write a nasty e-mail to John Barns to get the district inspector to actually show up. If you don't do a final inspection, you don't say "It's all good" and the City isn't responsible.
See a pattern here?

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