Bill Morris in Building Operations on May 15, 2018
Rick Chandler has been commissioner of the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) since 2014. He talked with Habitat recently about issues facing co-op and condo boards and their professionals. This is an edited version of the interview.
Habitat: DOB NOW is the department’s new computer platform. The idea is to move many tasks online, yet many people feel that everything still takes too long. Are you hearing complaints like this?
Chandler: I do hear some complaints, but our data shows that our service levels for turning around plan reviews and inspections have never been better. For minor alterations, we’re at under two days to look at a plan. For construction inspections, we’re at around three days.
With this new system, we will be more transparent than ever before because with it being online, any time we touch anything, you will be able to see it on the system. A frequent complaint that we get is that people submit applications and then they don’t hear back. What we suspect – and what we are starting to demonstrate now – is that we are absolutely turning around these applications. It’s just that the people who are filing on behalf of these owners, they’re not getting back to their owners.
Habitat: If there’s been a violation, can boards and managers see that online?
Chandler: Absolutely. We are transitioning from our current system, which is our Building Information System, known as BIS, and we’re building the new platform, DOB NOW. We’re going to be operating with those two systems for several years. Every building in the city has a BIN – a Building Identification Number – and all the records associated with that building are there. That will eventually be visible on DOB NOW, probably in a more user-friendly format.
One of the things that’s infuriating to me is that when our inspectors issue violations today, they write it by hand with a pen and paper. They bring that piece of paper back to the office, they hand that piece of paper off to a support person, who then has to type it in. When you go online to our system and look it up on our BIN database, you see what got typed in after the inspector brought it back. That will sometimes take a week, sometimes maybe even a little bit more.
Since I’ve started, every one of our 500-plus inspectors is equipped with a tablet computer. Where we haven’t gotten to yet, unfortunately, is online violations. We are working on that. In fact, there’s a pilot program that’s going to be starting any day now, with inspectors carrying around portable printers. The violation will still go through their tablets online, which will then get uploaded. But you won’t get any more of this having to type it in.
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