Six years after a fatal fire spawned legislation requiring safety evaluations for all high-rises in the city, the owners of dozens of them have simply ignored the law, an investigation has found.
Every non-sprinklered residential building was ordered, by law, to perform a complex life safety evaluation reviewing key safety features after a fire roared through the Cook County Office Building, at 69 W. Washington, in October 2003. The fire killed six people and injured dozens more.
Multiple commissions studied the fire and made recommendations on how the city should change its high-rise fire codes. One test determined that a single sprinkler head would have extinguished the blaze in seconds.
But a proposal to mandate the installation of sprinklers in every single Chicago high-rise was quickly shot down because of cost concerns and the city settled on the safety evaluations, a compromise it felt was adequate.
The deadline for submitting those reports was Jan. 1, 2006. Building owners who didn't file reports faced stiff fines.
Out of 1,575 Chicago high-rises, 759 were ordered to file the reports. Of the 652 which complied, 496 submitted them admitting they were doing so with failing grades. The owners of 107 high-rises have ignored the law completely.
Worse still: not a single building owner has been cited for failure to comply with the order. If fines had been levied for the buildings which have not filed their life safety reports, they would now total more than $23 million.
Chicago building commissioner Richard Monnochio insists the housing court never would have supported the fines, instead opting to help bring building owners into compliance.
And while he concedes over 100 buildings have done nothing to comply with the high-rise safety ordinance, he says that since they have another two years to correct deficiencies, they essentially they are still in the window of opportunity.
"Safety is not being compromised one iota by what has happened," he said. "The implementation isn't required until 2012."
"If I thought safety was being compromised, if I thought that for a second, I would use the full force of this office," he added.
Two more high-rise fires were reported last week. One fire raged through a Streeterville building, killing one person and injuring 12 others. That building, at 260 E. Chestnut, has filed its life safety report, although some improvements still are pending.
A fire also broke out on the 28th floor of 1455 N. Sandburg Terrace on Sunday. That building has also filed its life safety report.
All commercial high-rises in the city of Chicago are mandated to have sprinkler systems installed by 2017.