VIDEO: Structural Engineer Claims Building Codes Aren't Being Enforced

A whistle blower says he was fired after calling attention to numerous defects.

📅   Wed June 29, 2016 - West Edition


Local Albuquerque, New Mexico news affiliate KOB4 is reporting that all may not be well within the city's building code enforcement division.
Local Albuquerque, New Mexico news affiliate KOB4 is reporting that all may not be well within the city's building code enforcement division.

Local Albuquerque, New Mexico news affiliate KOB4 is reporting that all may not be well within the city's building code enforcement division.

Brian Seylar is a structural engineer who worked for the city's code enforcement department. He can look at detailed home building plans approved in the city's permitting process and understand they represent a promise builders made to buyers -- that they will account for every piece of wood and screw noted.

However, Seylar said the builders and their subcontractors too often leave those details out during construction. Seylar said the city knows it and is allowing homes to pass on inspections.

Home construction may look and seem like an art, but he said it's a lot less subjective than it looks.

"And it's important, because I want the homeowner to have the most solid -- I want them to get what they paid for," Seylar said.

For instance, he said he would routinely find subcontractors failing to account for critical pieces of wood and nails that help prevent a home from swaying near its roof and help distribute the weight of the roof itself.

"You have to transfer the load from the point of its origin, down to the foundation," he said as he explained the nuances of structural engineering to the 4 Investigates team.

Without those structural pieces, he said homeowners will likely notice cracks in their walls and leaks in their roofs over time.

"I'm looking out for the homeowners's best interest, you know. I'm just helping the contractor to do what they're supposed to do anyways."

Seylar said he shared his concerns with his superiors at city hall and was seemingly ignored.

Then, they fired him.

Seylar filed a whistleblower complaint against the City of Albuquerque earlier this month.

Part of his evidence includes photographs he took that he said prove how shoddy construction was allowed to pass inspection.

He also has city records that document the inspection history of homes. They show how homes he tagged for violations were almost immediately passed by other inspectors.

"Maybe Mr. Seylar did not tell you part of his job duties and part of the functions that he needs to do is something called the second opinion program," Gilbert Montano, Mayor Richard Berry's Chief of Staff, told the 4 Investigates team Monday.

He responded to questions on-camera when the city's Chief Building Official, Land Clark, did not.

Off-camera, however, Clark explained what would occur if a second inspector found a problem that Seylar found too.

"He should fail -- or she -- should fail that if it doesn't meet the design," Clark said.

The KOB4 Investigators then asked what would occur if homeowners were to drill into their ceilings, use a special camera to inspect their home's framing, and find omissions.

"Well, we would hope and we'd have to trust our professional inspectors, our professional staff over at the Planning Department, that they did their job and they did their job to the utmost," Montano said.

The city is not able to photographically prove that builders have complied with corrections that inspectors ordered -- including those made by Seylar. Montano, less than 30 minutes after his interview with the 4 Investigates team, said inspectors will now be required to take photographs moving forward.

As for why Seylar was terminated, Montano and Clark initially only said he did not meet minimum qualifications to hold the job past a standard six-month probationary period for new employees.

When pressed on Seylar's record of finding violations and if that was not part of the minimum qualifications, they explained he was also insubordinate at work.

Regardless of Seylar's personal circumstances with his now-former employer, he said he sees the potential of thousands of families living with hidden troubles at home that should have been prevented before they ever moved in.

Montano and Clark said the city is committed to rectifying any code issues that may have been overlooked, but said the responsibility ultimately rests with a home's builder.

Source: KOB4