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City Gets Tough On Shoddy Contractors After Firefighter's Death

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Building contractors who do unauthorized or shoddy work would face progressive discipline — ranging from a freeze on permits to license suspension or revocation — under a mayoral crackdown to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that killed a 42-year-old Chicago firefighter.

Daniel Capuano plunged to his death in December 2015 when he stepped into an open elevator shaft while searching through a burning, two-story warehouse at 9213 S. Baltimore.

Anilroshi LLC contractors were in the midst of major renovations to the warehouse. Nearly all of the changes — including removing an elevator — were undertaken without proper permits or inspections to ensure the elevator shaft and other floor openings were properly surrounded or sealed.

Demolition finally began on the one-year anniversary of Capuano's death.

The crackdown proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel was advanced Wednesday by the City Council's Zoning and License committees. It would subject electrical, plumbing and general building contractors to a progressive system of discipline that includes three levels: a freeze on permits, license suspension and license revocation.

"What was so frustrating is that we had a general contractor who pulled a permit to do minor work but was actually doing major structural changes," Building Commissioner Judy Frydland said Wednesday about the warehouse where Capuano died.

"We didn't really have the tools to go after this general contractor. . . . There really wasn't a way that was efficient and to the point to be able to stop him from pulling additional permits and doing more work in the city."

As always, Frydland said enforcement would be largely complaint-driven.

But she also promised to use permits issued by the Chicago Department of Transportation for dumpsters that hold construction debris to nail contractors doing unauthorized work.

"CDOT has a tracking system for their dumpster. And they're going to be sharing that with us over the next few months. That's gonna be able to help us catch people that are doing things behind closed walls where we can't really see," Frydland said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather Restaurant, questioned whether business owners who inadvertently hire a contractor who does shoddy or unauthorized work would be held responsible.

"Does the city have the ability to put a hold on the business license because of a contractual issue? Does it give you the ability to over-reach to disrupt a business?" Tunney asked Frydland.

"We don't want this to be another layer [of regulation and red tape] for us to have to make another phone call."

The commissioner replied, "No. It's specific to the contractor. . . . Our goal is to keep businesses in business."

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose downtown ward is a bevy of construction activity, said there are developers who "actually encourage contractors to do unpermitted work and make it part of their business model."

"The department will come out and issue the appropriate penalties and stop-work orders. And then, we'll find . . . a new contractor has been brought onto the job site to continue to do unpermitted work. And it turns into this kind of carousel of unpermitted work," Reilly said.

Frydland said her investigations should be able to uncover such patterns of illegal conduct. If she's right, developers and general contractors will also have their licenses suspended or revoked.

"These type of bad contractors [who] do this work — they all seem to know each other. They all seem to kind of run in a pack," she said.

After Capuano's death, an emotional Emanuel condemned the unauthorized removal of the warehouse elevator.

"Some guy pulls a permit to fix a building and then breaks the law. Takes the elevator out. And three kids are going to grow up without their father because he broke the law," the mayor said then.

"I know what we're going to do in the sense of the case [being] referred to the state's attorney. But I hope that gentleman carries that for the rest of his life on his conscience. The Capuano children deserve better than what he did."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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