Building experts say Philly’s construction rules lax, unenforced

A lot of construction and demolition work in Philadelphia that doesn’t seem like it should be legal … is. 

At least, that’s what building professionals told City Council, during a Thursday hearing investigating the deadly building collapse. On June 5, a property on Market Street that was being demolished came toppling down, killing six people. 

Michael Neill, training director at the electricians’ union, Local 98, said the city’s licensing system is too lax.

“For example, I can get my electrical contractor’s license, and hire anyone in this room to do an installation on that job,” he Neill, “and I don’t have to be on that job.”

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Some have questioned why Griffin Campbell’s construction company was able to obtain a demolition permit to take down the Market Street building. Campbell has a criminal record and filed for bankruptcy. At the time of the collapse, he also owed back taxes, according to city records.

Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said that even when there are rules on the city’s books, it often doesn’t make a difference.

“If you peel back the curtain, we have an awful lot of requirements … that lack total enforcement,” Gillespie said.

After the hearing, Democratic Councilman Jim Kenney told reporters that he is eyeing legislation that could strengthen the city’s rules at construction and demolition sites. He wants to require contractors to go through a prequalification process before obtaining a permit.

In the wake of the building collapse, Mayor Michael Nutter announced several new requirements for companies that tear down buildings. Some of Nutter’s proposals need Council’s support, including one that would force demolition contractors to obtain a separate license.

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