Miami-Dade Inspector General: County Built Two Projects With No Permits

Building permit? Miami-Dade County doesn't need any stinkin' building permit!

In fact, officials for the county's internal services department got away with completing two construction projects in downtown Miami without obtaining permits for either one, according to Miami-Dade Inspector General Chris Mazzella.

"The Office of the Inspector General finds this matter troubling," Mazzella wrote in a Dec. 19 report to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "The OIG is concerned that a pattern of building code violations appears to be emerging and should, herefore, be addressed."

In a separate investigation in April, Mazzella's investigators found the internal services department failed to obtain a permit for a roof project until 16 months after construction began.

The watchdog agency began investigating the latest case in June based on an anonymous tip. The first project involved the construction of a security operations room on the first floor of the Stephen P. Clark Center at 111 NW First St that began in July 2010 and finished in November 2010. Investigators met with officials from the Miami building department who determined the project managers for the Miami-Dade internal services department did not obtain a building permit.

The same thing happened in September 2011 when internal services personnel again failed to get a permit to renovate a lunchroom and kitchen a county garage at 703 NW 25th St.

Because neither project had a building permit, there were no electrical, plumbing, and mechanical inspections performed; a requirement for anyone building new construction.

Mazzella noted that the purpose of an inspection is to ensure that work is done safely and meets the requirements of the building code. "Incorrect installations could result in life safety issues, potentially causing a hazardous situation for employees and the public, and could also lead to more costly repairs in the future," Mazzella added.

In a Dec. 11 response to Mazzella's findings, internal services director Lester Sola conceded his department illegally built the two projects. Sola "found nothing to contradict your report's central findings that permits were neither requested nor issued for these projects."

Sola informed Mazzella that he would prevent his department from doing future projects without permits and that internal services will "do whatever may be necessary to eliminate safety or code issues for the specific projects identified in your report."

"Staff will contact and solicit the assistance of the City of Miami Building Official's Office to review the work performed in the two projects in order to ensure that the work was performed in a code-compliant manner," Sola wrote. "If necessary, we will make any corrections required by the city."

Mazzella did not return a voicemail seeking comment. A county spokeswoman said Sola was out of the office until Jan. 4, so he was unavailable for comment.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.