LARGO, Md. - A weeks-long FOX 5 investigation has resulted in the Prince George's County Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement's admission that the son of the agency's director broke county building code with a home his company flipped in 2015.
The home in Bowie was severely damaged in a fire in 2013, according to county records and the couple who bought the home.
It was sold to them by Integrity Professional Contracting, LLC, which is owned by Ehab Hijazi, the son of Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement director Dr. Haitham Hijazi.
The business address is the same as the address to a home owned by Dr. Hijazi, according to state records.
Integrity Professional Contracting bought the home in 2014 before knocking down the walls and rebuilding it from the concrete slab. The company sold it to a couple in Oct. 2015, but one key building requirement was missing – an automatic fire sprinkler system.
Prince George's County code states, "structures that replace structures that undergo a complete demolition [exclusive of the foundation] shall be required to be fully sprinklered."
For days, the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement told FOX 5 sprinklers were not required to be installed by the builder of the home, Integrity Professional Contracting.
When presented with photos FOX 5 obtained of the property at the beginning of the construction showing only the foundation, the department relented, admitting the sprinkler requirement should have applied.
Two sources with knowledge of the situation tell FOX 5 three county inspectors reviewed the property before it was sold. The sources provided several inspection documents that show inspector's notes pointing out that sprinklers should be installed.
One inspector even wrote in internal department notes, "I have been requested to final the permit and have been told that Gary Cunningham waived the requirement for sprinklers."
Cunningham, the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement's deputy director, disputed that he asked the inspector to waive the requirement, but he does say he told the inspector the sprinkler requirement did not apply based on the information he had at the time.
Upon reviewing the photos FOX 5 provided, Cunningham says he would have made a different decision had he seen them at the time.
"Based upon the approved plans and based upon the picture that was seen, it appears that the scope of work went beyond what was approved, and if it did go beyond what was approved, it would require the sprinkler system," said Cunningham.
Asked if he gave preferential treatment to the contractor because the company is his supervisor's family business, Cunningham said, "In this case, there was no preferential treatment given."
The case will now be referred to the county's independent building board, which will decide if sanctions are appropriate for the contractor. Sanctions could include anything from fines to license revocation.
In a statement to FOX 5, Integrity Professional Contracting maintains it was not required to add sprinklers to the home because it was not a complete rebuild. That conflicts directly with the statements of Dr. Hijazi's own agency.
The company's owner, Dr. Hijazi's son, Ehab, said in an emailed statement, "I am sure that the board will uphold my position and I am willing to defend my position before the appropriate court if necessary."