Perpetually semi-broken elevators & PA building codes
February 9, 2007 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I've got a friend who works in a Univ. of Pennsylvania building with ongoing broken-elevator problems. I suspect the state of them is a legal no-no; how to go about filing complaints to straighten them out?

Caveat: this is all second-hand information, errors are my own.

She's worked on the 8th floor of one of the U of Penn's Philly buildings for a few years now, and I keep hearing tell of the elevators there being in horrible shape. Frequently they get stuck; the doors often won't close without heavy manual "assistance," etc. Most recently, she was giving a tour to prospective grad students when the elevators up and refused to close the doors. Very entertaining description of their eyes taking on a look of slow horror.

My gut feeling (and thus bound to be accurate!) is that surely there's regulations against this kind of state of affairs remaining as-is. I've been doing some research to see about that, found the state of PA's building codes page here but finding anything useful on it makes my brain hurt. FAQs don't seem to help, and where to direct questions, much less file complaints, seems to be obfuscated on it.

So, this is sort of a multistage question:
1) is my gut feeling accurate, or are run-down elevators A-OK in PA's book?

2) if my gut turns out to be right on this, what can she, and other folks in the building, do to go about rectifying the situation?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total)
She should contact the Department of Licenses & Inspections in Philly. I think there's a link to a complaint form at that website.
posted by amro at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2007

I might know which building you're talking about. Consider contacting Philadelphia's License and Inspection department, as code violations are their deal. I don't believe it is possible to make an anonymous report, though, so keep that in mind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:07 AM on February 9, 2007

It's probably a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
posted by craichead at 9:12 AM on February 9, 2007

She might also contact Penn Facilities, or ask her department chairperson to contact a Dean or school administrator, if local facilities staff are unresponsive to repair requests. There may be renovations scheduled in her building that include new elevators, so checking with the school first before a call to L&I might be a good idea.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2007

I agree with craichead - she should go talk to the office of disability services, and they may be able to get through to the right people to fix it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:15 AM on February 9, 2007

That is, the university's office of disability services, not the state or city.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2007

Unless she is disabled, it doesn't really matter if the elevator's condition violates the ADA.
posted by amro at 9:18 AM on February 9, 2007

It doesn't really matter to her, I should say. She doesn't have standing to seek enforcement of the ADA. Although bringing the matter to the attention of the University before filing a complaint with L&I is a good idea.
posted by amro at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2007

The actual standards that the building code abides by are set by the ASME, and they don't appear to make their handbooks available for free. So yeah, it might be a violation of code but I don't know for sure.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:32 AM on February 9, 2007

A Few Words of Advice From a University Employee:

1. Do not make this a war. I have never had any issues resolved via adversarial means. At every step of the game you need to be friendly and relaxed, but persistent.

2. Do not involve outside influences. By going to the building inspector or board of health, you're just going to cause more grief for the person responsible for fixing the issue. U of P is in a unique position that it is one of the largest employers in the city. It is unclear whether any city agency will have any pull over U of P. Even if your complaint did get through, most likely it will be handled like this:

Phil, the city Building inspector: Hey joe! Some jerk is complaining about the elevators in building 3123.

Joe, the University Building Manager: Hey Phil, how's your kids? Yeah, we're having a bear of a time with these units. Come back in a few months and maybe we'll have 'em fixed.

Phil: Ok, no problem. I'll shut this kid up.

With such a huge organization, you need to fix your problem from within. That's my experience, anyway.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 10:43 AM on February 9, 2007

Penn has had problems with their various facilities' elevators for years. They never get fixed. Check back issues of the DP if you don't believe me; every damn year they do a "hard-hitting expose" on the situation, though usually as it relates to the undergrad residential buildings, especially in Superblock. Best of luck to you, but I think you're in for a Sisphyean task here.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:54 AM on February 9, 2007

Unless she is disabled, it doesn't really matter if the elevator's condition violates the ADA.
I don't think that's right. She couldn't sue, but the feds have done ADA "compliance reviews" of other universities, based on informal complaints, and forced them to clean up their acts. I wouldn't report them to the authorities for starters, but I don't think it's a bad idea to point out to the relevent people at the University that they're in violation of federal law.
posted by craichead at 10:57 AM on February 9, 2007

She couldn't sue

That's all I meant. Like I said, I agree that advising the U. of the problem is a good idea, and that can include the office of disability services (or whatever it's called).
posted by amro at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2007

My thought was the disability services would be a service-oriented part of the administration, and they'll know who to talk to to get the ball rolling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:36 PM on February 9, 2007

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