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Article updated: 9/23/2013 9:44 PM

Cook County building code inspections up 40% in a year

By Jake Griffin

Annual inspections at businesses and multifamily housing complexes in unincorporated Cook County increased by 40 percent this year.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's office said the county's department of building and zoning has conducted 1,246 annual inspections for code compliance from September 2012 through August 2013. That's up from 885 such building inspections during the same time a year earlier.

"Our work to step up inspections means that businesses and residences in unincorporated Cook County are safer and our buildings meet safety standards," Preckwinkle said in a news release.

However, some of those property owners are complaining to Commissioner Tim Schneider of Bartlett that county inspectors are being too aggressive and overreaching in their inspections of the building, electrical systems, plumbing, and heating and air-conditioning units, a representative in Schneider's office said.

Preckwinkle said the increased enforcement is an effort to upgrade the county's building inspection system and bring buildings in unincorporated Cook County up to standards set in neighboring municipalities. Preckwinkle is planning to introduce an ordinance to adopt the International Building Code for properties in unincorporated areas.

There are roughly 62 square miles of unincorporated land throughout the county. Preckwinkle has been outspoken about her desire for those parcels that are home to about 100,000 residents to annex to the nearest municipality.

The cost of providing public safety services to far-flung areas was often a reason she pushed for annexation. Preckwinkle commissioned a task force to come up with ways to speed up amicable annexations after critics complained about her plans to institute a special service area tax.

The annual inspections cost property owners $252, county officials said. So far in the current fiscal year the county has generated $313,992 from the inspection program. That's up from $223,020 over the same time last year. County officials maintain the point of the inspection program is not to enhance revenue, but rather to enhance safety standards and compliance.

Preckwinkle said by 2014 the county's building and zoning department will have an upgraded, web-based inspection system that will help the county identify businesses and residential properties that "fail to live up to building codes." The new system will automatically inform the county and property owners of upcoming inspections and will keep a database.

"The inspection process used to be haphazard," she said. "By installing an electronic-based system to catalog buildings we monitor, our inspectors will have a greater ability to issue violations and permits."

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