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DC elevator inspection process puts your safety at risk

Dangerous elevators are still in service in public buildings that you may step into every day.

WASHINGTON -- Audrick Payne is an elevator inspector. He works for DCRA, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and he's our whistleblower.

"I'm supposed to protect the public. That's why I'm speaking out because I am doing my job," he said.

He's calling the agency out for having just three inspectors for the city's 20,000 elevators. DCRA hires outside third-party inspectors to fill that gap. But, Payne said DCRA approves their work even though his follow up inspections show that work still doesn't meet safety codes.

In fact, Inspector Payne said it happens "every day, every single day."

RELATED: City residents say DC agency puts their lives at risk

We got our hands on some DCRA inspection reports from January 2015 through July 2017. In the stack, are locations like shops, hospitals and hotels with elevator violations, some tagged unsafe for use, others with illegal wiring, work done without permits, expired licenses and they're still in service.

Inspection reports show the elevators in a mid-town DC Marriott has had outstanding violations from late December 2017 until this past April when the company did get the elevators up to code.

DCRA's paperwork showed they could have been fined $24,000. But, Marriott told us they "have not received any notice of fines." And, for good reason. DCRA only has one attorney assigned to review the Notice of Infractions. So even if Inspector Payne cites these violations, companies don't immediately feel the hit to their bottom line.

When Inspector Payne was asked is every elevator that hasn't had a proper inspection a hazard, he responded, "I would say yes until it's looked at because you and I can't drive our car out here unless it's inspected."

If you've ever shopped at the Walmart on H Street you should know that inspection reports showed the elevators in the store are all operating without a certificate of inspection since October 31, 2015. In fact, WUSA9 has learned that the store has been fined $16,000 for not doing the fire safety test that's required by DCRA. We did stop inside and discovered that one elevator was blocked for maintenance.

Recently, 10 people were trapped on one of those elevators. They were not able to alert anyone because there was no working alarm bell or phone inside. A DCRA inspector shut it down and tagged it as unsafe for public use.

RELATED: 'Huge safety issue': Elevator mechanics question state law

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said to DCRA Director Melinda Bolling during an oversight hearing that "Increasingly, I'm seeing a credibility problem." She told the chairman that his statement was not fair.

Melinda Bolling was being grilled, again, by D.C. Council members because of the constant complaints from citizens that the agency is not protecting them. Bolling was on the defense because council members said DCRA is run so poorly that residents are at risk with elevators that are still operating with safety violations.

WUSA9's Delia Goncavles showed Director Bolling a stack of emails requesting an interview with her since January. She claims a possible scheduling issue as the reason no one ever followed through. As for dangerous elevators still in service in so many of our public buildings, we never got a straight answer.

When we asked if she was serving the community when there is hearing after hearing of people complaining, Bolling said, "What I would say is that we issued over 50,000 permits last year and you do have people who complain, but they're a small percentage. If they need an elevator repair, we're out there trying to work with the property owner to make sure that it happens as quickly as possible. Do we have missteps? Absolutely, but we're working to fix every one of them and we are doing what we're charged with which is the life, safety and protection of citizens."

Walmart did not respond to any WUSA9's emails regarding the elevator issues at its H Street store. But, it's not just the elevators. We've also learned that the store's escalators have safety violations and are operating without a valid license.

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