Department of Buildings: 2020 Year in Review
Dear Industry Partners,
Happy holidays to all! As we wrap up 2020, I want to share with you some of our accomplishments this year. But first, I want to express my sincere appreciation to each and every one of you for working in partnership with the Department of Buildings (DOB) during these challenging times.
As you recall, construction was deemed an essential service by Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot last March. Since then, DOB’s top priority has been the continuity of services while reducing the spread of COVID-19. Thanks to our hard-working and dedicated staff, we were able to quickly pivot to remote and alternative processes for permitting, inspections and trade licensing, and we continue to maintain and improve these services, wherever necessary. This includes remote processes for permits that were not already online, alternative contact information, virtual meetings for those with permit and inspection questions, virtual inspections for certain permits, and ongoing communication with you, our stakeholders, via e-newsletters and FAQ documents on the DOB website.
Please take a minute to review some of our successes this year. Again, we appreciate working with you and hope that the holidays and the coming year will bring you much happiness and success.
Year in Review
Despite the unique headwinds of 2020, DOB remained committed to meeting the goals promised to the industry, and thoughtfully added more based on lessons learned during the pandemic. Our highlights are included below.
Full Implementation of the New Chicago Building Code
DOB implemented a smooth transition to the new Chicago Building Code, passed by City Council in 2019, on the scheduled effective date of August 1, 2020. Under the leadership of Mayor Lightfoot, the new Code was implemented without a hitch despite a worldwide pandemic. DOB senior staff proactively hosted and participated in multiple webinars to ease the transition and answer any questions from industry partners and proactively communicated with stakeholders via email and social media alerts.
The new building code brings Chicago closer to national standards in building planning, fire safety, building rehabilitation, and promotion of energy efficiency. With rising construction costs and a dire need for more affordable housing, the new code’s flexibility and expanded options for cost-effective construction are more important than ever as the City seeks to encourage redevelopment in communities that have long been overlooked. Though applicants had the option to apply under the previous code, only an estimated 680 plan-based permits were issued under the previous code – about 8% of total plan-based permits.
Continuation of Highly Successful Plumbing Pilot Program
DOB extended its highly successful Plumbing Pilot Program. The program allows for the rehabilitation and repurposing of existing buildings and new residential buildings up to four stories to use PVC for drain waste and vent pipe. This is vital to reducing the costs of construction, which is even more important in post-COVID recover. To date the program boasts 2,141 projects, saving more than $34 million for building owners, small business owners, and developers, including affordable housing developers, throughout the City.
Continuation of the Chicago Construction Codes Modernization Program
DOB’s modernization efforts did not cease with the new Building Code. Despite the limitations of convening large workshops with industry partners, DOB staff continued the internal review of requirements for plumbing, mechanical ventilation, refrigeration, natural gas, hazardous occupancies, and trade licensing.
Interim plumbing and mechanical code amendments, vital for pandemic recovery and the success of the City’s economic investments. The full plumbing and mechanical codes as well as the refrigeration, natural gas, hazardous occupancies, and trade licensing codes will be drafted, with robust collaboration from all stakeholders.
Permit Streamlining and Paperless Applications
At the beginning of the COVID stay-at-home order. DOB quickly pivoted to provide permit applications to be accepted, processed, and issued via mail, email, and other electronic means. This was vital to keeping our easy permit and other paper-based permit applications going without interruption. This continuity of services kept economic development and construction-related jobs on track during these unprecedented and challenging times.
DOB has issued 8,435 easy permits online since City Hall closed to the public on March 20, 2020. DOB intends to continue this process which also highlights the imperative need to migrate to an updated system. DOB remains committed to working with our City partners on this on other necessary automation initiatives.
Inspection Streamlining and Virtual Inspections
DOB also provided continuity of inspections since the beginning of COVID. In addition to remaining in the field, DOB inspectors have also been accepting photographs and virtual inspections, when appropriate. We know that, in certain cases, a photograph is not a replacement for an in-person inspection, so interior inspections are taking place in emergency-type situations and/or when residents are comfortable with inspectors entering their homes. To date, DOB has conducted over 500 virtual inspections and we will continue that new successful tool in 2021.
Reduction in Time to Permit
Under Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership, DOB is pleased to report a 15% reduction in time to permit as compared to 2019.
DOB Processing Time: 26 Days - Time with Applicant: 36 Days
Total Time to Permit: 62 Days as of November 30, 2020
DOB Processing Time: 32 Days - Time with Applicant: 45 Days
Total Time to Permit: 77 Days as of December 1, 2019