Philly L&I is testing out virtual inspections to make the permit process more efficient

The initiative aims to both streamline the process and save time for inspectors who can forgo parking and travel between sites.

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(Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

The city of Philadelphia is moving into the future with a high-tech way of doing inspections as part of a pilot program.

Licenses and Inspections commissioner Ralph DiPietro told City Council that workers will begin conducting virtual inspections in an effort to make the process more efficient.

“Virtual inspections will increase the efficiency of inspections staff by saving the time required to drive from site to site for permanent inspections,” he said. “Through this new program, specific types of inspections can be completed via video without any decrease in current compliance. And in addition to that increased efficiency, the permit holders will benefit from a narrow inspection window.”

Members of council quizzed DiPietro about whether the program could be expanded to help with inspecting apartments and other rental properties. He explained that third-party inspectors, who would be paid by the property owners, could potentially certify properties before new owners move in, and potentially carry out annual inspections.

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The pilot test will determine how well inspections can be conducted virtually before a decision is made about making it a permanent addition to L&I’s procedures.

“Part of the reason for the pilot is to see what type of inspections are best served by this. It’s not for every inspection,” DiPietro said. “Sometimes you just have to be on site. It’ll be mostly construction inspection-related virtual inspections, or we will work some code enforcement stuff out there as time goes on.”

The pilot program is expected to begin on April 24th. The landscape won’t change overnight because of the trial. “It’ll be a fairly controlled one. So we can sort of roll it out and see what kind of real-world problems we’re having in terms of the inspection and documentation.”

Philadelphia isn’t the only major city adding a virtual option. “This is something that’s happening all across the country. So we’re certainly not unique in doing that, but it definitely seems to be something the way the industry is trending, and we certainly want to take advantage of it.”

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The program will supplement an effort by the city to hire and train more inspectors to cut down on wait times during the construction process.

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