'Struggling to keep up:' Fire chief says not enough staff for timely inspections of rental properties

London's fire chief said the department is struggling to keep up with inspections in London during a committee meeting discussing posting fire-code convictions publicly on the city's website.

Revelation made during discussion about posting fire-code convictions online

London's Fire Chief John Kobarda responds to questions during a meeting at City Hall. (City of London )

London's fire chief says the department is struggling to keep up with inspections.

John Kobarda made the remark during a council committee meeting that discussed posting fire-code convictions publicly on the city's website.

A staff report recommended by Kobarda proposes adding two years worth of conviction reports to a searchable database which already includes building code and development applications. 

The city's Community and Protective Services Committee voted 5 to 1 to take no action on the report Tuesday. Councillor Mo Salih was the lone supporter of Kobarda's request and said he plans to present the report to council.

During the meeting, Kobarda was asked to compare the current inspection system to the way restaurants are inspected by the Middlesex-London Health Unit. 

He said there are nearly 7,000 buildings with rental units that the fire department has to inspect. 

Kobarda said health inspectors visit restaurants at least three times a year, but his department doesn't "have the staff to do that type of frequency."

"We might get in once every three years or once every five years," said Kobarda. "The problem lies there."

"We're having a great deal of difficulty finding inspectors and we've had attrition, so we're struggling just to kind of keep up with things."

Conviction Rates

Kobarda was asked what the current conviction rate is for the City of London. 

He said that there were almost 1,500 inspection orders in 2016. 

He said the inspections resulted in 83 tickets being issued and nine charges being laid in 2016. The chief said there have already been 73 tickets issued with 30 pending charges in 2017. 

The chief couldn't say if listing fire-code convictions publicly would improve public safety. He did say there is a concern that posting convictions could leave prospective tenants with the wrong information. 

"Sometimes these convictions can take a year or more," he explained to the committee. 

The fire chief used a fatal fire on Oxford Street in 2014 as an example of how the system could cause problems.

A report prepared by staff for the City of London recommends posting fire-code convictions online. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"It took us two and a half years to get a conviction," said Kobarda.

"So if I was to now put it on the website that the building had a conviction? That building has a completely new owner, it's been all renovated and it's being used for a completely different purpose."

He said posting the conviction publicly would harm the current owners.

"A parent would go on...take a look and see it's got a red mark," said Kobarda.