Head-to-head with a PI — Pt. 2

Feb. 1, 2011
When last we spoke, we were in a pickle due to a PI who had failed to properly interpret the plumbing code.

When last we spoke, we were in a pickle due to a PI who had failed to properly interpret the plumbing code. No one likes to make mistakes, but everyone on this side of the lawn does. It's tough to face the music and admit you goofed, but we (most of us) do and if you own a mechanical contracting firm, that admission often results in real dollars being lost. But, those of us who are smarter than a box of rocks also learn from our mistakes and strive to avoid a repeat. If you're as stubborn as a mule or, worse yet, have an overblown ego, you may find it impossible to admit you've erred.

Having your work flunk during an inspection naturally causes the customer to begin doubting your abilities. After all, the PI has a badge and authority that trumps your abilities in the customer's eyes. No one wants a flunky doing their plumbing work!

The cost to comply with our dead-wrong PI would have exceeded $900. But it wasn't the cost that frosted my pumpkin — it was the IPC Commentary Edition’s written warning that by following his demands, we would "create a known health hazard." That was the line in the sand I wasn't going to cross. It was time to take off the gloves and deal with this PI bully.

Did we alter the plumbing? No. Was the bakery allowed to open on time? Yes. Am I still waiting for the city's code enforcement officer to render a decision about this independent third-party PI ruling? Yes, and I'm not holding my breath! But my Irish was up, and I was one determined plumber willing to leave no stone, or official, unturned in my quest to have the situation corrected.

A PI has powers with no one to answer to. We (all of us) tend to bite our tongues and comply with their "requests" that stray beyond the four corners of code books. Why? Aside from not wanting confrontations that lead to subsequent difficulties in future inspections, it's easier to go along with the vagaries and whims that can change like the wind when personal moods swing like the Sultan of Swat. Inspectors have pretty awesome powers and that's mighty attractive for folks who like throwing their weight around. Fortunately for all of us, 98% of the PIs are upstanding folks who follow the codes and will discuss a ruling if we feel there's an error in the interpretation.

Having nowhere to turn and a deadline looming for the occupancy inspection — to be performed by the same inspector — meant all the heat was focused on me. A series of phone calls to York City officials were met with sympathy, but did not turn up anyone willing to overrule the PI. The city's top codes official agreed with my assessment, but noted her powers did not extend far enough to make the decision on her own. She said she'd get back to me. Then I hit pay-dirt: an insider, who shall remain nameless, at the codes department gave me the contact information for the PI's boss in Philadelphia. The third party inspection business is booming, evidently, if the PI's home office is 95-miles away!

I e-mailed first with a short, but detailed, note explaining what had transpired along with excerpted copies of the code passages from both the commentary and non-commentary editions. After waiting for a reasonable time period, I called to follow up. It was a pleasant surprise to find the PI’s boss reasonable and polite. He noted he'd read the note and agreed that the code was crystal clear and promised to respond, in writing via e-mail the next day (Friday), that our installation would be approved as it existed. He freely admitted the PI did not have, and was not provided with, a copy of the commentary edition! The occupancy inspection was scheduled for the following Tuesday, so time was running out.

Friday came and went without the promised e-mail approval. I'd been copying a number of officials on the messages and the architectural firm involved in this project. On Monday, both the architect and I e-mailed the PI's boss and within minutes we had the reply we needed that overruled the PI. All's well that ends well? Only time will tell: after we get through a few more inspections. However, the code book also spells out how personal liability issues will be addressed for any PI who establishes a pattern of abuse.

The real issue, in my humble opinion, is the fact that we (all of us) have nowhere to turn for a rapid response when a PI refuses to admit a mistake or discuss a ruling. As I tried to explain to the city's code official, we did not have the luxury of time to have the issue resolved. Had the PI's boss been unwilling to do the right thing, I'd have been forced to comply while creating a health hazard or else set a course that would have disrupted a fledgling business while making a lot of folks angry.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at: [email protected].

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Web site is protected by Copyright 2011. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].

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