Department of Permits Licenses & Inspections

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pittsburgh’s unusually rough winter and spring—rapid freeze-thaw cycles paired with record-level rains—led to more than a dozen landslides. Various city agencies, including the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and the Department of Public Works responded, gathering information about Pittsburgh’s hillside geology in the process.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

For decades, contractors demolishing old buildings in Pittsburgh knocked them through the sub-flooring and filled in the holes with whatever was left behind. Debris, support walls, bricks and even appliances -- all topped off with dirt.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Residents, developers and businesses curious about building permits they’ve submitted or the status of construction in their neighborhood can now access information directly from their phones or computers.

William Real / Flickr

Pittsburgh’s old property violations system was, in a word, cumbersome.

“A citizen would put a call into 311. We would then print out that call here (and) manually hand it to an inspector. They would then go out, see the property, inspect it, write on the back of the paper if there was a violation and then give it to someone to be typed up, and then we’d actually mail it out,” said Maura Kennedy, director of the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, or PLI. “That took weeks.”

The City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections is changing the way it handles appeals to its decisions regarding businesses licenses and property violations.

PLI Chief Maura Kennedy said a review of all bureau policies last year revealed that the current system — wherein Kennedy herself evaluates and adjudicates appeals — violates state law.

“Legally there needs to be an independent body that you appeal the director’s decisions to,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for the department both to be the judge and the jury.”

Flickr user Mary Helen Cochran Library

The Pittsburgh Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections has a nice little chunk of change—a bit more than $300,000—set aside for storage of records.

But the catch is the work must be done on microfilm.

The Microfilm Permit Plans Trust Fund was set up in 1986 with strict parameters about how the money could be spent, and nearly thirty years later, the city has finally decided it’s time to broaden those parameters.

Technology upgrades in the new Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections – formerly the Bureau of Building Inspection – are set to continue, as Pittsburgh City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would set the stage for putting permitting online.