It’s time to fire Inspector Gotcha

I’m going to leave out names, because they really don’t matter. This is an issue of culture in City Hall, and it’s one that needed to be shown the door long ago.

Talking to another local small businessman, I heard yet another story of a small business opening being delayed by Inspector Gotcha. After turning in plans, building to plan, following inspections, when it was time for the final inspection and time to open, Inspector Gotcha jumped out and said “you can’t open, you didn’t enclose xxx.”

One week later, small businessman can open because he has now paid homage to the supreme power of Inspector Gotcha who smugly thinks this type of harassment is what he’s paid to do. And the stupid thing is, 99.9% of the time, if an existing business was doing the exact same thing- not only would Inspector Gotcha not be able to do a damn thing, but the business would be just fine.

Don’t think Inspector Gotcha is only in the Building inspection or permits, he also works for the health department, the fire department (sprinkler inspections), the auditor’s office, the list goes on. He’s more like a disease instead of a doctor- causing illness instead of curing it- no matter what he thinks his perfunctory role in society is.

If we want to see 1,000 new small businesses thrive and flourish in Dayton, we need to take the Inspector Gotchas out into a field and hold a ceremonial bonfire- burning up all their “stop work orders” and “temporary occupancy permits” and “conditional use” rulings. True professionals work to make sure that businesses open on time, to code, and provide safe places to do business. Hacks play Inspector Gotcha.

In fact, we should start fining inspectors for finding things after they’ve signed off on plans, or for delaying the opening of new businesses. It’s time to hold people accountable for adding the PITA (pain in the @$$) factor that they bring to doing business in Dayton.

If you have a PITA story from dealing with “Inspector Gotcha”- feel free to share it in comments- maybe if we have a central repository of stories- we can bring an end to the harassment and additional cost of doing business in Dayton.

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39 Comments on "It’s time to fire Inspector Gotcha"

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Will Brooks
Will Brooks

Someone needs to stop this sort of garbage. I would really love to see specific stories made public. Put some sunshine into the mix.


Took 5 months to get approval just to add a patio to our business. We were told after submitting the plans that if we made a few changes it would be approved. Spent the $400 making the changes-got denied anyway. Had to continue through the appeals process for 3 more months, all the while losing business.

Will Brooks
Will Brooks

David, once these accumulate a little is it worth putting them into their own thread instead of comments?


I would need some additional details on the fire inspector incident before making a judgement.  For example, was it for violations of the occupany permit? Things like those exist for a reason (human safety), not simply to harass people out of business.


I hear this kind of stuff all the time, and it really sucks.  And the sad thing is, I know some of the problem comes from a small part of my own area, the Fire Dept…

Codes and Ordinances certainly have a purpose, but someone just needs to shake some of these people are remind them (or teach them…) that their job is to be a FACILITATOR!

It might help for the City Manager (along with our new Mayor?) to have a bit of a “Come to Jesus” meeting with Department heads of the areas in question, make it extremely clear how important it is that we don’t piss off potential new businesses, and be sure that info gets moved on down the line.

This seems like a cultural change that should, in theory anyway, be easy to pull off with some frank communication with Department heads….


Excellent post, Esrati.   And I think Brad had one of the best responses:
but someone just needs to shake some of these people are remind them (or teach them…) that their job is to be a FACILITATOR!
…Brad hits the nail right on the head.


My father & I own a small parking lot (less than 60 spaces) – we torn a historic structure down to make the entire lot “profitable” – we were threatened with eminent domain by a BIG, BIG employer in town (think new 12 story eyesore near edge of South Park).  Not only did the eyesore company call and complain about the demo – dust was getting on their precious structure – but now they have called out the dogs on us.  “We need copies of your parking lots plans” – City had them over 5 years ago when we torn the structure down.   So my father resubmits them – wrong size wrong paper type.  We spend 2 weeks trying to find SOMEONE at City Hall to tell us – what size & what paper.  The Inspector is OUT for 2 weeks with the flu and NO ONE could comment on “someone elses case”.  So now we are told we need to have poured concrete bumper blocks – not the portable ones.  Set backs and of course everything else – including lights.  I figure by the time we are done we will have a parking lot of approximately 10 spaces.  Yep 10 vs. 60 sounds sooo profitable (ie taxable) to me.  They are all “drain bramaged”.  Here is to another 5 years of City Hall c$%p!

Civil Servants are People, Too
Civil Servants are People, Too
Ok, here we go again.    People like to complain about this in every town, but it is nowhere near what people will make it out to be with anecdotal evidence.   I will make a bet that most of the stories that you collect will be the result of user-error, not Inspector Gotcha.   Let’s see …. The fire inspector’s job is to enforce fire safety.   If you are using a building illegally, you may get caught.  That is YOUR fault.  That said, the “Good” inspector should explain how to apply for what you need. If you are building a structure, you must follow the Ohio Building Code.   Every city is required to enforce the Ohio Building Code or they can lose their certification.  If they lose certification, they have to pay someone out-of-town double $$$ to do the same work.  Either way, you play by OBC rules.  If you don’t know the rules, hire someone who does. If you are building a parking lot, you need a permit.  A demolition permit is not the same as a construction permit.     A napkin sketch showing future plans to get a demo permit is not the same as the architectural drawing needed for new construction. In reality, it’s usually not the inspectors fault at all because they are only dealing with your contractor after you start construction.  If you did everything right on the front end, you won’t have a problem on the back end. By the way, the correct term in for permit people in Ohio is “Plans Examiner” or “Building Official.”   Also, I think Dayton’s zoning code changed af ew years ago.   Anything you might be used to doing before then may not apply under their new zoning code.   If you have a good local architect or engineer, they should know that and have a copy of the code handy when going over your plans  every step of the way.   If not, don’t blame the inspector. Now, show me the person who actually followed the correct process and STILL got nailed by “Inspector Gotcha” THEN I will believe… Read more »
I own a sign company. A few years ago we were contacted by a church trying to open a day care in their church which is located within the city of Dayton. They wanted us to print a temporary 3’x8′ banner on the side of their church (which surprisingly was allowed by code), just to advertise the new venture for a few months. They made the mistake of calling the wonderful “First Stop” center (haha, what a name) to find out if this was allowed. Inspector Gotcha’ said “sure, just stop down and submit a permit application”. Upon submitting the application and waiting nearly a month, my client was informed they would need to submit a $400 set of stamped engineering drawings showing how 6 3″ screws would be attached to a brick wall. Let that sink it… a $400 set of drawings for six screws, and the total cost for the banner and installation was less than half that price… Needless to say my client pulled the plug on the banner, was unable to advertise their day care, and wasn’t able to keep the doors open. Another one… we were hired to make a sign for a business in a historical area governed by the Landmarks Commission (oh dear god…). Being a turn of the century WOODEN structure, Landmarks required the sign be made of a historical material: wood. Understandable and I actually agreed with this, no problem. But back to our favorite first stop center and we were turned away. Why? The sign needed to be made of a non-combustable material: metal. Apparently Inspector Gotcha is fearful of historic signs bursting into flames spontaneously without warning (we all know wooden signs are prone to random flame-ups, right?!?). Ugh. Back to landmarks, who wouldn’t budge, the sign had to be wood. Back to Gotcha. Nope. Metal. 3 months back and forth. Once again, after enough headache and not wanting to pay additional fees to pursue fighting the issue further, my client threw in the towel and went without a sign. They didn’t last 3 months. Shocker. I wonder how… Read more »
David Lauri

A napkin sketch showing future plans
@Civil Servants, are you implying that the parking lot plans to which Emily refers were “a napkin sketch”?  Do you mean to imply that Emily can’t tell the difference between a napkin and the right size and right paper type?
@Emily, I don’t think you should have to do this, but please, clear this up for Civil Servants–were the plans you and your father submitted 5 years ago a sketch on a napkin?

@Civil Servant – your response is expected & typical of a Civil Servant.  Yes the plans were by an architect (both times – current bill $500 – each time a different size and paper type), yes we applied for not only demo permits and “regular permits” but asbestos removal, abatement of the asbestos, someone to not only FIND the asbestos but also verify that it had been properly removed (another $2000), then we had to cart away the building and have “fresh” dirt installed (total demo costs – not including new asphalt – $35,000), then we had the permits for a drain and asphalt installation.  That is just 5 permits thus far to REMOVE the building – would you like me to continue on to the myriad of permits for an actual  parking lot?  But your REGULATIONS appear to be fluid and quite idiotic to me.  “Do this – no don’t do that!”  Who cares if the parking bumpers are portable or permenant?  Required landscaping?  How the hell are we going to water it when NO WATER exists at the site?  Went through all this 5 years ago.  Inspector Gotcha at that time got promoted and – funny thing – he just up and vanished from our lives. What this really is about is exposing Inspector Gotcha for the thugs that you are.  Mr. BIG, BIG Employers is pi$$ed that we refuse to sell to them – so they call out you goons to do their dirty work.  And you willing oblige them?!  Inspector Gotcha called our demo contractor 4 times regarding construction debris dust – called in by Mr. BIG, BIG Employer.  Our demo guy stated “In 30 years of this business – I have NEVER had this happen”. Go start you own business and you will truly understand what we have endured.  Leave your “ivory tower” and come mingle with those of us who have taken a beating from Inspector Gotcha at every turn – often by OMISSION as well as COMISSION.  Napkin – HA – and again typical!  Yep you caught us – we are all so stupid… Read more »
David Lauri

Sending 63 year olds who traffic in child pornography to jail?  Sure.  Sending 63 year olds who deal drugs, especially in school playgrounds, to jail?  Sure.  Sending 63 year olds who lose millions of dollars of people’s retirement funds in Ponzi schemes to jail?  Sure.  Sending 63 year olds who don’t dot every i and cross every t when submitting plans for parking lots to jail?  Come on.
Perhaps now’s the time to start naming names.  Perhaps now’s the time to start recording conversations (in Ohio so long as one party to a conversation consents to its being recording, it’s legal to do so).  A few recordings of a Dayton Inspector Gotcha saying “if you don’t do as I say you’re going to jail, pops” might do wonders to change the climate in the City of Dayton.


@David Laurie

Don’t need to record it – I have the letter. 

And just for the record WE were not the one who didn’t “dot i’s or cross t’s”  It is the Inspectors office – THEY dropped the ball 5 years ago.  Try getting someone to “take over” someone else’s file over there – forget it.  One can only be put-off so many times until you just cry UNCLE.


Perhaps “Civil Servants are People Too” would show some bravery by providing a real name instead of an opaque alias.  It strikes me that Esrati, Lauri, and I–among others who use their real names here–are not afraid that someone will link our comments to a real person.  C’mon “Civil”, who are you, really?  Chicken?

Will Brooks
Will Brooks

Ya, let’s name the names and get some sunshine here. I’m polishing up my marching shoes. This stuff pisses me off to no end. FACILITATOR covers it, but some of the things described here reek of corruption. Turn on the lights and watch the roaches run for cover.


I don’t really have a problem with building and fire codes.  I think the issue here is that there is a lack of reasonableness and excessive attention to bureaucratic detail.  Not to mention a process issue (fluid regulations and permits that get second-guessed) as well as an attitude issue (“facilitator” vs “enforcer”).
The thing about the hospital (lets say this is Miami Valley or Good Sam) does sound pretty corrupt.  In fact it sounds like how the old Daley Machine up in Chicago used to deal with politicalopponents…sic the inpectors on them.  This happened to store and building owners who put up signs supporting Daleys political opponents (Mike Royko had some good stories on how this operated in the Adamowski/Daley contest back in the late 1950s or early 1960s)
Instutions like MVH and UD probably get a pass and get favorable treatment from the city based on their importance.  Their income taxes pays Inspector Gotchas’ wage.

Will Brooks
Will Brooks

Instutions like MVH and UD probably get a pass and get favorable treatment from the city based on their importance.  Their income taxes pays Inspector Gotchas’ wage.

Very likely.

Civil Servants are People, Too
Civil Servants are People, Too
@Emily. I did not mean that you literally brought in a design on a napkin.  I apologize if you took it that way.   It sounds like an unfortunate situation and a good example of an actual problem that should be addressed.    I’m sure someone out there will be willing to give it another look.    However, you would be really surprised at what some people try to submit for their plans.   Perhaps you are the exception.   I am trying to help people understand the view from the other side of the desk.  We have to do our jobs the best we can with ever-shrinking resources.   If you want to scare us away from participating in this discussion, well, you’re dong a good job.   I’m sure there are exceptions, but I still bet that most people who complain have themselves to blame, at least a little.   Government is like a business in that relationships DO matter.   We are not robots!   @ Who cares if the parking bumpers are portable or permenant?  Required landscaping?  How the hell are we going to water it when NO WATER exists at the site?  Went through all this 5 years ago. Not to beat a dead horse, but let’s look at this for a moment.   “Who cares?”   The people who own property around you probably care.   The civil servants upholding the laws should care.   If the LAWS are the problem, don’t attack the people who are asked to enforce them.   Talk to the people who WRITE the laws and VOTE to approve them.    Or vote them out, like Dayton did this year.  5 years is a long time to be angry at someone who doesn’t work there anymore. BTW, who is this architect that charges $500 for printing a different size paper??   Perhaps it is time to find a better architect who gets it right the first time.   Again, let’s think for a moment on these issues… these are serious questions that we deal with: Should property owners not have the right to complain when something is done wrong on a neighboring… Read more »
Will Brooks
Will Brooks

@Civil Servants are People, Too – I think you are experiencing pent up frustrations from people who perceive the city did not serve their needs. Meanwhile, they saw a bigger company catered to while they were given a hard time. Right, wrong, or indifferent I don’t think either of us wants them to fail or move.

I can only imagine that you guys do a thankless job. I do not know what type of pressures you deal with in your job and I am sure that if I had to deal with them then I would have a different perspective. I thank you for sharing yours.

Should the city not make an effort to appease “Big Big” employers at a time when people say how bad things are for businesses?

Not at the expense of smaller businesses. That is just plain discouraging to the small business owners and no one likes to be treated unfairly. You would not like it either, whether it was actual or perceived. Now I could take the attitude and say “tough luck, that’s the way it goes”! That would likely encourage a person to relocate someplace that is more small business friendly. NOBODY really wants that.
I think this is a good time to evaluate how customer friendly you guys are. I feel your frustration working a thankless job but there a lot of other thankless jobs too. In many of those jobs it’s absolutely essential that excellent customer service be maintained. I can tell you this much. If you want people to say thank you, then provide the best customer service you can. Will everyone appreciate your efforts? NO! But the ones that do will express it and you will feel appreciated and encouraged.
Please keep coming here. I hope you can affect change by shedding light on what you guys deal with. We need church.
Oh, we seldom agree with each other at first so don’t be put off by that. It does get a little heated at times. David Esrati does a real nice job moderating things to keep it civil.


Will Brooks
Will Brooks

@Civil Servants are People, Too – What would it take for someone from your office to develop a one page pamphlet explaining the process required for businesses to get what they need?

I would volunteer the time and energy to develop however many are needed.


I agree with DE on this one….

Big fish are fine. People get that. But then they go elsewhere. So then we lack that small business that makes a city unique. Basically they say “F*ck You” and go elsewhere. Now we all lose.

It should be a simple process. The inspectors are always on their high horse. I have dealt with them. I had to kiss ass – which I did and I played their game – but some people don’t have time for that. They need to lose the attitude. And most have an attitude. And to a lot of people, especially in construction, they are the face of the government. THEY need to be nice.


I’d love to read some more anecdotes that don’t have to do with pulling down historic structures to make a parking lot.  (She said it, not me “We torn (sic) a historic structure down to make the entire lot profitable…”) The history of downtown Dayton is riddled with similar stories. There is plenty of parking downtown. Everytime I’ve had to park downtown I’ve had no problem in doing so. We don’t need anymore goddamn parking lots. We do need to hold on to whatever slivers of history we have left. You get no sympathy for me– there’s a special corner in hell for people who turn beautiful things into dust. 

@ Civil Servant:  Where do I begin?  You DID mean that my father & I are rubes (a napkin – really??!! You are the typical snide and rude Civil Servant) .  You meant that statement in the most negative manner – you just didn’t expect that I  would call you out on it.  Obviously you haven’t a CLUE what architectural services cost these days – (psst… – no one is building their “dream home” anymore)  Low demand higher price. OK?!  Simple economics. And NO –  no one is willing to “give it another look” – my father was informed this past Monday that “the criminal charges wouldn’t be pursued” as long as he was making a “good faith effort to comply”.  And that would be on whatever size of paper of whatever composition (we still don’t know).  Even if the Inspector was “out with the flu” for 2 weeks. You have NEVER attempted to open nor operate a business in the City of Dayton.  And it shows… Try as you may there are thousands of stories that correborate my side – not yours. BTW – how did that whole “appease BIG, BIG Employer” work out for the Dayton-metro area?  NCR – gone.  Delphi – gone.  IAMS – gone.  Shall  I continue? The properties around us don’t give a sh&t about parking bumpers – and you know it.  Lame argument, I call BS.  You know that  I am right.  The properties around us are owned by BIG, BIG Employer.  They HATE our attorneys.  Sorry –  too bad – so sad!  They also don’t give a crap about landscaping.  This is the “expected” Civil Servant mentality of “WOW I am so enlightened that my brains have fallen out”.   Go on – go scoop those brains up!  I’ll wait. The only thing that BIG, BIG, Employer gives a rats ass about is if their employees are SMOKING in our parking lot, which we allow to pi$$ off BIG, BIG, Employer!! – Actually their security team has come on to OUR lot – a private area – think of the legal implications…(ACLU would have a field day!) “For every Inspector Gotcha there are… Read more »

@ Larkin

We did not have a choice. 

Parking lot ( we own) or no parking lot (BIG BIG Employer owns – vai eminent domain)

We had the property on the open maket for over 2 years…

BTW Parking downtown is a nightmare!!!
If it makes you feel any better – the building was salvaged by a historic group.



BTW, who is this architect that charges $500 for printing a different size paper??   Perhaps it is time to find a better architect who gets it right the first time.
…I’d say, for a parking lot, retain a civil engineer not an architect.

BTW Parking downtown is a nightmare!!!


@Jeff – we have had a civil engineer look at the lot for drainage purposes. 

Same problems same issues.

AGAIN – if one has never dealt with City of Dayton Inspector(s) you really haven’t a CLUE as to how insane the process can be.


And @ Jeff –

We offer a service to the community at a very low cost.  So that parking downtown isn’t a nightmare.

Where the hell are you parking?  Meters everywhere and not a spot to park.  Yea that is really “pro-business”…

Greg Hunter
Greg Hunter

With all due respect, how many jobs does a parking lot create, compared to a hospital?

I know this is about City Services, but I am amazed that the only business that is growing is the health care business.  From a long term perspective this phenomena cannot continue as health care takes away from the bottom line and does not advance it.  Sure preventative care is one thing, but my god it does not seem to make economic sense that a City or a Region can survive on Health Care and the Military, both of which are funded with predominately Tax Revenues.  I get that old people with Socialized Health Care are great voters, but from a long term perspective, it appears unaffordable.  I think the Housing Bubble was obvious and the Health Care Bubble is next.  Crazy times and stupid investments for the future.

Teresa Lea

WOW Greg made sense for once!
David – I think you should tell the story of that building I love in the Oregon District. I think I’ve heard it 10 times, but it never ceases to amaze or amuse me.
@Emily we jogged past your lot early this morning – it was full :)

Teresa Lea

And last night you told me that a Max and Erma’s tried to get in there once – but the City ran them off. “So what do you do?” – “you go somewhere else” and they did.
DE also told me a story about how the OD started to become a place for bikers to congregate. (Many years ago I worked as a corporate trainer for the restaurant industry. There are two sets of people you always want to see – Bikers and Trap Shooter’s. Big money and big tippers. ) Anyhow, a few of the bikers liked to be assholes and rev their bikes up at the end of the night – neighbors complained (rightfully so).
So what did the city do? Enforce the noise ordinances and ticket the few assholes to get them to stop? No. They made a new law that bikes could only park a certain way on the street, put up signs, and started handing out tickets to the bikers (including the non-asshole ones).
The bikers go to Quaker Steak and Lube now, where they have to block off the parking lot every Thursday to accommodate the bikes, the restaurant goes on a 3 hour wait, and they have to grill $2 burgers outside because the kitchen can’t keep up with everyone.
As we say sarcastically at the poker tables, Nice Hand Dayton.

David Lauri

You’d think the Convention Center garage would have an adequate number of parking spaces for any structure in the Oregon District. If the current rules say otherwise, the current rules need to be changed. That’d be a fun issue for the Mayor-elect to take up.

Teresa Lea

Agreed, DL.
I heard from a business man in Troy (I think you met him as well at DE’s fundraiser) that it is well known in the Business community that Dayton is not good for business – most quit trying. It isn’t that they don’t want to be here, they do, they just don’t want to go through the hassles and politics.  The only entrepreneurs that still try are the ones connected to Dayton, people that already live in the City. (or so it seems from my perspective)


>>You’d think the Convention Center garage would have an adequate number of parking spaces for any structure in the Oregon District. If the current rules say otherwise, the current rules need to be changed. That’d be a fun issue for the Mayor-elect to take up.

@DL:  yes yes yes!   Great idea!   That garage is vastly underutilized, and it is only a block from the Oregon District.


Where the hell are you parking?  Meters everywhere and not a spot to park.
Normally, I park at a meter or in a garage.  My barber is downtown so I use the garage in his building.  Or if I’m going to the library or checking in at one of the bars I go to for happy hour, I will use a meter, usually near Cooper Park.   This is usually in late afternoon, not too long before the magic hour of 6 PM.