Scott Friedman, NBC 5 News
An NBC 5 investigation discovers hundreds of Dallas apartment buildings are overdue for safety inspections.
An NBC 5 investigation has discovered that hundreds of Dallas apartment buildings are overdue for safety inspections that are designed to protect people who live in and around the buildings.
The city of Dallas Department of Code Compliance is supposed to check apartment buildings at least once every three years to keep neighborhoods from going downhill.
NBC 5 Investigates filed an open records request with Code Compliance asking for its computer records of every apartment complex in Dallas and their last inspection date.
The list shows 268 across the city are overdue.
Code Compliance said the number may actually be higher -- more like 285.
But NBC 5 can't tell if either number is right because of the city's record-keeping. NBC 5 found that some of the buildings on the list from the open records request had been torn down, but the records were never updated. Others are still there, but Code Compliance has no record of inspecting them in more than three years.
John Gormley lives in the Munger Place Historic District, where beautifully renovated homes sit next door to apartment buildings that do not look so renovated.
"I would like to see code enforcement truly enforce code," he said. "My worries are like any homeowner's worries -- property values."
The city's records show that 114 apartment buildings within one mile of Gormley's house are past due for inspection.
"Do I like it? No. Do I think it's right? No," Gormley said.
Nearly all of the uninspected apartment buildings are located in Code Compliance's central district, which covers downtown and areas east of Central Expressway.
Jimmy Martin, the director of Code Compliance, said he was not aware that buildings were overdue for inspection until a new manager in the central district briefed him on the situation.
Martin blamed most of the problems on a manager who used to run the central district before being reassigned to another part of the city around the beginning of the year.
"It's basically a lack of due diligence on the manager's part," he said.
But, it's not the first time an NBC 5 Investigation found Martin's department falling behind on inspections.
Earlier this spring, Martin was called in front of a City Council committee after an NBC 5 investigation found that his restaurant inspectors had failed to check hundreds of restaurant kitchens.
The city did not realize those inspections had been missed until NBC 5 pointed it out.
When asked if it's his responsibility to know when inspections aren't happening, Martin said: "Yes, it's my responsibility."
The apartment inspections also are designed to make sure buildings are checked for things the city calls "life hazards."
Susy Hughes, who inspected apartments for the city of Dallas for more than 20 years before retiring, said life hazards are "things that could kill people or seriously injure someone."
Hughes is now a consultant who helps apartment owners follow the city's rules.
She said that when inspectors don't come back and frequently keep checking buildings, "the danger is an injury or a fatality and a loss of value to the property and the neighboring properties."
City records show inspectors uncover things such as broken smoke detectors, rotting railings and dangerous wiring.
Meghan Riley, who lives in an apartment with her 14-month-old son, said such issues concern her.
"I don't want anything to harm him or us while we're sleeping," she said.
Today, even apartment owners who helped create the city inspection program question if it's doing its job. They complain that some buildings get checked more than once every three years while others are hardly inspected at all.
"I don't think it's working the way it was originally created," said Kathy Carlton with the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas. "I think there needs to be some more attention paid to the properties that really need attention."
Code enforcement is now sending inspectors to all the buildings that have not been checked.
"It's just an oversight," Martin said.
Martin says he plans to discipline the supervisor he blames for most of the missed inspections. That supervisor is Jim McKissick.
"I'm doing the best I can to ensure inspections are performed in a timely manner," said McKissick. "I was not aware of any shortfall in inspections until I heard through an open records request."
That's the request made by NBC5.
Gormley and his neighbors said the overdue inspections uncovered by NBC 5's investigation add to their frustration.
"I had no idea they were that far behind," said Beth Bradley, of the Munger Place Neighborhood Association.
"It makes me even more cynical than I already am, and I've gotten pretty cynical over the years about tax code enforcement and city services," Gormley said.
The city manager's office told NBC 5 it is also looking into why apartment inspections were missed.
With restaurant inspections the city blamed a shortage of inspectors, and hired more after our investigation. An assistant city manager said they do not believe it's a staffing issue because they have enough inspectors to complete the work.