County cracks down on building violations

The Clark County building division shared proof Tuesday that it is getting tough on commercial property owners — including hotels — who remodel their buildings without permits or inspections to show the work is safe.

From March through October, the county has issued more than 1,000 notices of violation for lack of permit or for substandard work, Ron Lynn, the county’s head of development services, reported.

All those notices grew out of investigations into complaints about commercial locations.

For all of 2007, before the county hardened its approach, it issued only 767 notices of violation, and not all of those came through investigation of complaints, according to the building division.

Also, as part of a new program to inspect high-rises and resorts on a regular cycle, county inspectors are swarming at Circus Circus to review past work for which no permits were obtained or permit paperwork has been lost.

Clark County commissioners at their Tuesday meeting heard an update from Lynn. He detailed how his department, which includes the building division, is putting into action the inspection changes ordered by the commission in March and April, such as mandatory cyclical inspections of resorts and high-rises, plus more thorough handling of complaints about building safety.

Lynn described the work underway at Circus Circus as the first cyclical inspection.

"Being one of the oldest (MGM-Mirage) properties, (it) should be evaluated first," he said his inspection team decided.

MGM-Mirage gave to the county in late summer a list of potentially suspect remodeling projects at all its local properties.

The gaming company took advantage of a self-disclosure "amnesty" program that the county offered when it revamped its building division in spring. The oldest portion of Circus Circus dates back to 1968; remodeling has occurred there under various owners.

MGM-Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the company compiled its list of problematic projects as part of a comprehensive internal review it ordered after the Monte Carlo suffered a rooftop fire in January.

The blaze — which forced an evacuation of the hotel and caused significant damage — was traced to sparks from outdoor welding, which workers were doing without the permit required by the fire department.

"We said, ‘You know what? It’s probably best, recognizing that we’ve acquired these properties through the years … to go through all of them head to toe,’ " Feldman explained.

The undocumented work at Circus Circus occurred mostly in spaces used for retail shops or casino offices, according to Feldman. So far, inspectors have issued 352 notices of violation to Circus Circus. Most of them were for lack of paper to prove permits were pulled. Ninety-nine of the notices were for substandard work, according to the building division.

Lynn said the division since March has collected more than $424,000 in fees paid by various property owners, in connection with the 1,000-plus notices of violation. Of that, about $343,000 is from hotels in the Harrah’s Entertainment group, and $81,000 from other commercial locations.

The county expanded the building division’s duties after New York consultant Michael Kessler released an audit in March that identified glaring deficiencies in the way the county was investigating complaints and monitoring its inspectors.

The county had hired Kessler in late 2007 after the Review-Journal that autumn documented several illegal remodeling projects at the Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas. Complaints about that construction — which in some cases was found to have neglected basic fire-prevention requirements — had gone unheeded until the newspaper’s exposé.

Commissioner Tom Collins voiced a worry that the new level of enforcement is causing work slowdowns in hotels or other locations where maintenance staff have, for decades, done minor renovations without pulling permits. He asked Lynn to devise a system for a "blanket" facility permit, which would allow property engineers to do minor renovations on the spot, then obtain permits and inspections afterward.

Lynn said he hopes to present in February a proposal to allow facility permits.

A slender silver lining to the current economic downturn is, according to Lynn, that without increasing payroll, he can divert inspectors from new construction, which has slowed, into the fresh programs to cyclically inspect existing high-rises and resorts.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at or 702-383-0268.


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