Local governments should do more to liquidate dangerous buildings

Toomas Mattson | 2/10/2016 | 9:10 AM

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TALLINN, 10 February 2016 – The audit of the National Audit Office indicates that local governments should give more attention to the dangerous buildings in their territories and demand that they are demolished or made safe. Local governments currently tend to not discipline the irresponsible owners of buildings, as they are afraid to lose in disputes due to their inadequate legal competence.

During the audit the National Audit Office observed whether or not local governments intervene when buildings whose owners fail to maintain them and whose doors and windows have been broken become dangerous. Although the exact number of such buildings in Estonia is not known, but the Rescue Board estimates that there were more than 1200 of them in 2015. There are also other structures that can become a threat to people – uncovered wells, underground tanks and cellars.

An abandoned building whose doors and windows have not been locked or boarded up quickly starts attracting homeless people as well as youngsters who have nothing to do. Instead of being ready to promptly react to calls for help, the Rescue Board has to spend a lot of time every year on putting out fires in abandoned buildings. For example, fires had to be put out in an empty schoolhouse in Tallinn more than 30 times in 2014.

“Last year, four rescue workers were injured when rescuing people from dangerous buildings,” said Auditor General Alar Karis. “Uncovered wells caused the death of six people five years ago. A sad event also occurred in the course of the audit: the National Audit Office pointed out a dangerous building, but the local government failed to see the threat, saying that a manned guard was being used. Despite this, a teenager fell off the third floor of the building and sustained serious injuries. It is high time for local governments to acknowledge their role and take decisive action against the owners of dangerous buildings before someone is hurt or killed again.”

All of the buildings selected for the audit are located in busy places and close to permanently inhabited residential buildings. The buildings were situated in 15 local governments and according to the Rescue Board, most of them were already dangerous in 2014. 55 of the 79 buildings were still in a dangerous condition after the completion of the audit, five had been demolished and in 19 cases, the threat had been eliminated in another manner. As for the 59 buildings located on private or state land, the local governments had not reacted to the threat at all in 22 cases, e.g. no proceedings were initiated against the owners of dangerous buildings.

The National Audit Office found that local governments do not consider dealing with and supervising dangerous buildings a priority, and usually plan no separate people or funds for this purpose. The priority local governments have set themselves in the area of construction supervision is processing planning and usage permits according to requirements, which means that the officials working in the area of construction don’t have the time or the desire to identify dangerous buildings and initiate proceedings against negligent owners. Local governments tend to not discipline the irresponsible owners of buildings, as they are afraid to lose in disputes due to their inadequate legal competence.

The situation is no better when the local government itself is the owner of the dangerous building. Access to seven of the 20 buildings belonging to local governments that were inspected by the National Audit Office is still not restricted. Local governments tend to overlook the fact that disused buildings must be maintained and instead, use their money for reconstructing buildings that are being used or for developing different services. It is possible to apply for support for the demolition of disused buildings, but there is not enough money for demolishing all of them.

As the construction supervision duties of agencies overlap to a certain extent, the National Audit Office also analysed the cooperation between local governments and state agencies. The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the Building Code does not stipulate a clear division of duties between local governments and the Technical Surveillance Authority in the supervision of dangerous buildings.

Cooperation between local governments and the other agencies that supervise buildings (Rescue Board, Technical Surveillance Authority, National Heritage Board) is not working. They often fail to inform each other about the proceedings they have initiated, which means that oftentimes, local governments do not have adequate information about all of the problems related to dangerous buildings. There is no central record of dangerous buildings in the building register kept by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, which is why the agencies concerned cannot obtain objective information about the status of buildings from there.

The National Audit Office advised the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to send a memo to local governments that outlines in greater detail the competence of state supervision arising from the Building Code to explain the division of work between the Technical Surveillance Authority and local governments. The National Audit Office also advised to analyse with other ministries (Ministry of Finance, Ministry of the Environment) whether additional national measures are required for the demolition of disused buildings. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications promised to analyse the situation. The National Audit Office assumes that the ministry will present the results of the analysis to local governments already in 2016.

The National Audit Office advised local governments to identify in their territories any disused buildings that have become dangerous, to guarantee that access to these buildings is blocked and to plan goals and actions for reducing the number of dangerous buildings.

The National Audit Office carried out the audit in Kiviõli, Kohtla-Järve, Mustvee, Mõisaküla, Narva, Narva-Jõesuu, Paldiski, Põltsamaa, Pärnu, Rakvere, Tallinna and Valga towns and Räpina, Tapa and Toila municipalities.

Please note! There are a number of photos of dangerous buildings in the territories of the audited local governments on the website of the National Audit Office that the press is free to use. The author of the photos is the National Audit Office.

The photos and the text file (zip) with captions can be downloaded here:

 

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager
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  • Posted: 2/10/2016 9:10 AM
  • Last Update: 2/10/2016 10:49 AM
  • Last Review: 2/10/2016 10:49 AM

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