The city has a team of 43 "conservation" inspectors who received training in porch inspections since the task force was disbanded. But they combine checks on rodent infestations, structural damage and other hazards with annual scrutiny of porches in apartment buildings taller than three stories, McCaffrey said. That amounts to inspecting about 5,000 porches out of Chicago's roughly 680,200 residential properties. Last year, another 3,400 porch inspections were triggered by new permits issued.
All other checkups are triggered solely by complaints on the city's 311 line -- a catch-as-catch-can system that relies on the vigilance of apartment tenants and homeowners who may not know what makes porches safe, critics say. The number of 311 calls for porches has fallen in recent years -- to 1,775 last year from 2,443 in 2006 -- but the critics argue that doesn't mean that there are fewer hazards, said John Q. Kelly, a New York catastrophic injury lawyer.