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City Of Chicago Failed to Collect $30 Million In Potential Fines from Building Benchmarking Ordinance

Not Enforcing The Benchmarking Ordinance's Fines From 2018 - 2022 Reduced Accountability & Transparency

Electrify Chicago has analyzed the last five years of city benchmark data, and found 3,325 instances of building owners not submitting data. Based on the latest (2024) official notification letter (opens in a new tab) fines for non-compliance could total up to $9,200 per year.

A selection of text with a title 'Failure to comply is more expensive than you
        think', with details of fines and a highlight saying 'These fines could total $9,200 /

A screenshot of the energy benchmarking notification letter's section on fines, as of Feb. 2024 (source (opens in a new tab))

With a maximum of $9,200 of fines multiplied by 3,325 instances of non-compliance (source - City of Chicago data portal (opens in a new tab)), that means a whopping $30,590,000 dollars of fines could have been collected by the city's commissioner of business affairs and consumer protection (who is given this responsibility in the original ordinance).

A screenshot of the city data portal showing a view of buildings filtered by the
        years 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, and a reporting status of 'Not Reporting',
        with the total results returned of 3,325 underlined in redA screenshot of text that reads 'Showing rows 1-100 of 3325'

The full data portal screenshot, and a zoomed in view of the query result count (source (opens in a new tab))

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protections, which is charged with enforcing the benchmarking ordinance, returned no recorded instances of the ordinance being enforced.

Why This Matters

Without consequences for non-reporting, building owners who perform poorly can simply opt out of reporting their data. Some owners of very large and culturally significant buildings have consistently not submitted. As an example, view 2023's largest non reporting buildings in the data portal (opens in a new tab). Not having all building owners report means the goals of the ordinance aren't being met, and the public loses out on valuable information for buildings that could be emitting the most or be the least efficient. The city may also believe that it is on track with its climate goals, when there are still large buildings that are emitting but have their emissions not reported or not reported accurately, like if a building reports their electricity use but not their natural gas use.

To put this $30 million in potential fines into context, zin the 2024 budget, $25.3 million was suggested to be put towards lead line replacement, meaning these potential fines could have fully funded that program in 2024 (source - City of Chicago 2024 Budget Overview (opens in a new tab)).

Next Steps

An older version of the energy benchmarking notification (source - WayBackMachine (opens in a new tab)) did not contain any information about potential fines, and merely by updating the notification letter to make sure that building owners are aware of the consequences for not reporting, the reporting rate is likely to improve. However, we believe it is crucial the city then follow through and fine any owners who choose to ignore repeated requests to report their energy use, in keeping with the original ordinance. We also believe that larger fines may be necessary to get the owners of very large and inefficient buildings to report their emissions, rather than to obscure their pollution from the public.

Additionally, we recommend the city consider adding more granular data requirements to the data portal to help building emissions data be more clear and helpful. This includes ensuring that all electric buildings are clearly reported, distinct from buildings that reported electric but not gas use, and considering requesting information about a building's HVAC system, since that can be the driving factor in a buildings emissions profile, and a building that uses gas only for cooking should be identifiable from a building using gas for heating and cooling as well.


Contact the lead developer on this site, Viktor Köves, by emailing