Building without a permit (reminder of a NIK audit)

Over the past 20 years, NIK has conducted several audits dealing with the activity of building control bodies. Sadly, most NIK findings are still valid: incomplete execution of statutory tasks and infringement of law by building control bodies, low financing from the state budget and also the law that does not guarantee effective building control in Poland. Besides, this is yet another NIK audit to confirm that the district building inspectorates are dependent on the district government, both in terms of finance and premises. NIK has again pointed to the risk of the conflict of interests, particularly in cities with district rights. This is when the presidents of those cities subject to the supervision and control of the District Building Control Inspectorate (DBCI) - as property managers or investors - perform duties of the district head. Besides, according to the provisions of the Building Law, the district head is entitled to appoint and dismiss the district building control inspector. This issue has not been regulated ever since the reform of 1998. 

None of the audited inspectorates had a system in place to help prevent building without a permit, identify such cases and react quickly. In the audited district building control inspectorates (DBCI), the inspection planning principles were not standardised. At the province level, all inspectorates drafted annual inspection plans. In the DBCI Warsaw, the planned inspections made up only 1 percent of all conducted inspections, whereas in three district inspectorates the inspections were not planned at all. The inspections were usually carried out in response to some complaints received by the inspectorates or as part of seasonal activities, where holiday resorts for children were audited before summer or winter holidays. 

As many as 18 of 22 inspectorates breached effective provisions of the law in the course of complaint procedures. Actions - such as the inspection or at least verification of information - were performed only after a month, and in an extreme case even after a year and a half after it was received by the inspectorates (Municipal DBCI in Wrocław). At the same time in those cases, the complaining parties were not informed that their complaint could not be settled in due time. Besides, in DBCI Drawsko Pomorskie in response to three complaints related to a threat to health or life, the inspection was started only after 12, 21 and 85 days from the date they were filed with the inspectorate. Some inspectorates did not respond to the complaints at all. That was the case among others in DBCI Zakopane which did nothing in response to 10 of 40 complaints under inspection, of which 8 was related to building without a permit. Some complaints as to which no actions were taken came from 2015 and 2016. 

COMPLAINTS AND REQUESTS - BREACH OF CAP

A glaring example of building without a permit is a six-floor guesthouse in Zakopane. In May 2004, DBCI Zakopane established that the building was raised without a permit. The inspector ordered to demolish the building in January 2005, which is 8 months later. The Province Administrative Court sustained the building demolition order in January 2016. During the audit, NIK ordered the District Fire Service to inspect the facility. The inspection revealed a range of irregularities, resulting mainly from the breach of effective provisions (e.g. inadequate width of evacuation routes, lack of required fire-resistant doors in guest rooms, absence of fire alarm system connected with the monitoring of the District Headquarters of the National Fire Service in Zakopane). Only in November 2018, the district inspector addressed the investor with a reminder to demolish the building. Despite the legally binding demolition order, the building is up and running and the rooms are still available for rent. NIK has underlined that the facility has no permit for use.  

A guesthouse raised without a permit in Zakopane

Almost in 87 percent of inspectorates, NIK auditors have found irregularities in terms of enforcement proceedings. The proceedings were started or conducted with delay. Sometimes they were not conducted at all. In four District Building Control Inspectorates, in 30 out of 80 audited cases, no actions were taken to enforce obligations imposed on obliged parties. 

DBCI Drawsko Pomorskie failed to institute enforcement proceedings in 15 cases which required that. In DBCI Szczecin no action was taken in one case, although more than 3.5 years have passed since the decision was issued. The longest inactivity periods were confirmed at the stage of activities before instituting administrative enforcement, where the inspectorates were to verify how the obliged parties discharged their duties, such as the demolition order or the halt of works. Eight district inspectorates did not take any actions at that stage from 11 days to 8 years. In DBCI Kozienice one of the building demolition orders became enforceable in March 2009. For over a year since then, the Inspectorate in Kozienice learnt that the demolition order was not executed. For nearly seven years the DBCI did not take any measures in that matter. Only in January 2017, the obliged party was informed about the inspection date. Until the end of the NIK audit, the demolition order was not executed yet. The period of standstill in that case in DBCI Kozienice was nearly 8 years. Also in Municipal DBCI Cracow, the order to improve the technical condition of the building waited more than 8 years for its implementation and by the time the NIK audit ended it was not executed.

Extremely long administrative and enforcement proceedings took place in Cracow. Significant breaches of construction permits were confirmed as early as 1998. Demolition orders were issued twice and then withdrawn. The case was pending by the time the audit ended in 2018. It means that the proceedings took more than 20 years altogether.  

A building raised without a permit in Cracow

NIK auditors have also identified the inspectorates’ inactivity in the proceedings concerning the buildings’ technical condition. The most flagrant example was in DBCI Zakopane, which in February 2009 was informed of some technical issues of a building. The issues posed a threat to tenants. The DBCI inspected the facility only in August 2015, which is after 6.5 years. 

In three Province Building Control Inspectorates (PBCI) - Łódź, Warsaw and Szczecin - lengthiness of proceedings related to the condition of flood banks was confirmed. For instance, the PBCI Szczecin having inspected the flood bank (Puck Island) stated that its reconstruction method could be a threat to people and property in case of a flood. Therefore, the PBCI ordered to stop the construction works in April 2016, imposing relevant obligations on the investor. Considering the breaches in the flood bank as well as the flood threat the order was of immediate enforceability. The PBCI verified if the investor discharged its obligation only in July 2017. The PBCI inspection showed that the duty was not performed. The investor complied with its obligation only in August 2017, that is 16 months after the order to stop construction works was delivered. 

At the beginning of December 2015, the PBCI Warsaw received the periodical inspection reports dealing with the technical condition of the flood bank on River Jeziorki. The reports showed that the condition of the hydrotechnical facilities may pose a threat. At the end of September 2016, the PBCI requested the author of the reports for clarification. The facility was inspected only in January 2017. The PBCI ordered the facility manager to remove the irregularities in May 2017, which is 1.5 years from the time it was informed of a potential threat. 

According to province and district inspectors, there is a measure that could make the enforcement of an order execution more effective - it is called substitute performance. This is an enforcement measure as a result of which a duty of an obliged party (e.g. investor or property owner) is performed by building control bodies by way of the demolition order (and thus aiming to comply with the law). Substitute performance is made for the obliged party and at its cost in case that party fails to execute the legally binding demolition order, The demolition of a building is made by a building control body through a contractor selected in a tender. That enforcement measure was used rarely, though: 3.2 percent of cases in a controlled sample, considering 1.4 percent of demolition cases Poland-wide from 2015 to 2018. The reasons included high costs of substitute performance and staff shortages. 

Irregularities were also related to obligatory inspections (being part of the inspectors’ statutory duties). For instance, in the DBCI Goleniów in 80 percent of cases (32 of 40 inspected ones), the investors were given permits for use although they failed to deliver required documents, such as safety tests of electric or gas installation or flues. The district inspector did not even call the investor to complete those documents. 

The reasons behind the said irregularities included high workload but also staff shortages. It has occurred that the headcount was mainly determined by the level of available funds, not the actual staffing requirements. The NIK audit showed considerable fluctuation in headcount in the audited building control inspectorates. It was worst in DBCI Zakopane where in 2017 all the technical staff quit, apart from the inspectorate management board. Also in 2017, in DBCI Łódź Wschód 75 percent of employees resigned. As for Province Building Control Inspectorates (PBCI), the highest fluctuation in the audited period was reported in PBCI Łódź (28 percent w 2016) and PBCI Warsaw (24 percent in 2017).

Salaries in each group of inspectors in all the audited inspectorates were lower than the average basic salary of a construction engineer. According to the data of Statistics Poland in October 2016 it was less than PLN 4.6 thousand gross. A lot of people who resigned from work in building control inspectorates got hired with competitors. 

Considerably worn-out physical assets of district inspectorates, mainly cars and computers, were also an issue. It made it much more difficult for the inspectors to efficiently discharge their statutory duties. 

NIK’s recommendations

NIK upholds the recommendation made as part of the 2012 audit Performance of tasks by building control bodies. The recommendation was related to considering law changes to ensure higher efficiency of building control bodies, particularly in terms of: 

  • performance of tasks and statutory obligations, 
  • increased independence of building control bodies from local governments at the province and district levels, 
  • reorganisation of building control bodies, also in terms of employment level. 

NIK has also recommended that the General Inspector of Building Control should:

  • develop and implement internal mechanisms to prevent delays in inspection and enforcement proceedings; 
  • work out solutions to disclose more building-without-a-permit instances and shorten the time of response to such cases.

Article informations

Date of creation:
09 March 2020 10:09
Date of publication:
09 March 2020 10:09
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
24 March 2020 00:02
Last modified by:
Andrzej Gaładyk
A construction worker standing in front of a building

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