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Hidden Dangers | La.'s private building inspectors work with little oversight

The lack of documentation about inspections that would likely fail if they happened was concerning for two industry experts.

NEW ORLEANS — When you are wanting to build a home, experts say there are no less than 13 building inspections that need to happen to guarantee it's safe.

That number grows if there are failed inspections along the way, meaning, the building inspector finds the work does not meet the building code, and therefore, re-inspections are required.

In New Orleans, ten percent of building inspections, on average, fail. But as WWL-TV first reported this week, the private, 3rd party inspection companies reported zero failed inspections over a 15-month period.

In 2020, nearly 14,000 of the city’s building inspections were done by 3rd party inspectors, more than those done by city staffers.

With zero failed inspections submitted to the city, inspections expert Frank Morris said that’s unusual.

“There's a very few projects, whether there's new renovation or whatever, to where every project is going to have zero fails,” Morris said.

A former building official, Morris, trains inspectors all across the country. In fact, he’s trained many of the current inspectors in the metro New Orleans area.      

He said the paper trail of failed building inspections is important for the safety of not only current building owners but future ones.

“To me, that's a false sense of security that, hey, this was perfect because all I have is, is a report saying everything was approved,” Morris said.

3rd Party inspection company IECI does three-quarters of all the private building inspections in the city of New Orleans. Owner Randy Farrell said his company does not submit failed inspection reports to the city—ever.

“If the city documents a failed inspection, it automatically assesses a $190 fine. So, we will use those appointments as a time to consult with the contractor or owner to walk the project and point them in the right direction before we do a final inspection and tell them what is need to be able to do a final inspection,” Farrell said.

It is unclear whether that $190 was a re-inspection fee charged to the homeowner or some other type of fine.

A spokeswoman for the Cantrell administration would only say the "City is not aware of that 3rd party courtesy walk-thru process."

The lack of documentation about inspections that would likely fail if they happened was concerning for two industry experts.

“There's no paper trail if they're not writing any report on it, which could turn out to be a liability situation for the municipality, the third party and the inspector themselves,” Morris said.

La. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning oversees the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council, the agency that inspectors must register with to work in the state.

He said the process for submitting 3rd party inspections to the city or any local government is not regulated in state law and “The concept of conducting re-inspections when corrections are needed is not rare. At least 30% of the Fire Marshal’s Office inspections on the fire code require re-inspection. But that's always documented, as it should be."

Farrell said he sees it more as a courtesy visit and that the projects don't proceed if they can't pass either way.

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