**Apologize for faulty home inspection, ombudsman tells city **
Published On Tue Sep 20 2011
An Etobicoke woman deserves an apology and reimbursement from the city over its handling of an unsafe deck at a home she was renovating, Toronto’s ombudsman says.
Responding to a former tenant’s complaint about a missing doorknob, a city inspector found no doorknob issues but noted a three-foot-high deck had steps that lacked a handrail and guards.
The next day, an order to comply was issued but when the owner sought clarification of what she had to do, she was referred to the 59-page property standards section of the city’s municipal code.
In her report, No Way to Comply, Fiona Crean said a municipal standards officer (MSO) and senior executive of the municipal licensing and standards division city failed to provide critical information that could have helped the woman comply.
“For reasons which escape me, the MSO and the District Manager chose to provide her with the most rudimentary information and simply refused to be helpful,” Crean’s 34-page report said.
“This is unacceptable and well short of the customer service standard the public is entitled to receive and the city expects its employees to deliver,” she added.
The June 2009 inspection for a missing doorknob turned into a notice to remove high grass and two pieces of drywall stored outside which the homeowner did, but she required more information on the missing handrail in the vacant house.
Crean’s report said that instead of explaining what was needed, the city conducted follow-up inspections in October 2009 and February 2010, by which time a handrail was there but no guards. The resident was charged with failing to comply and received a “nominal fine.”
Crean started an investigation in late January of this year after the woman contacted her office. She then learned that a senior city official wanted to know the questions the ombudsman’s office was asking and the answers given.
Crean said the interviews her office conducts are confidential and releasing the contents undermined the integrity of her investigation. Subsequently, a memo from the city manager reminded staff not to divulge such information.
Aside from recommending the city provide a written apology and waive inspection fees, the ombudsman’s report called for better communications, including up-to-date training and better record-keeping.
Crean also wants employees to be “counselled” if they fail to meet standards, including management and employees involved in this case.
The city is working on reversing the $60 fee the woman was charged for each inspection – the home was inspected a total of five times – and has until Sept. 30 to issue an apology.
The woman’s complaint that city staff dismissed her queries and concerns was borne out by the investigation, Crean concluded, summarizing the case as “a complete communication breakdown.”
“It is an example of bad public service,” she wrote.