New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Playing it Safe With Facade Inspections

 

Most property owners and managers know that Local Laws 10/80 and 11/98 involve an inspection of a building's exterior. The myriad details and nuances that make up the laws, however, are often a frequent source of confusion, especially those pertaining to required follow-up repairs. Because so many New York City cooperative and condominium buildings must conduct these facade inspections, this month's "Ask the Engineer" will tackle some of the most frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between Local Laws 10/80 and 11/98?

In 1980, the New York City Council passed Local Law 10 (LL 10/80), which required owners of buildings with street-facing facades taller than six stories to file a report with New York City's Department of Buildings (DOB) once every five years describing the existing conditions of their exterior walls. Local Law 10/80 was actually an amendment to Section C26-105.3 of the administrative code, governing repair and maintenance of exterior facades.

Local Law 11 of 1998 (LL 11/98) further amended the code to mandate the inspection of buildings with any facade (as opposed to just street-facing facades) taller than six stories. Local Law 11/98 also put in place other new requirements, namely that at least one scaffold drop be conducted as part of each inspection, that the specific cause(s) of deterioration be identified, and that a definitive repair timetable be established. Local Law 10/80 is still the term commonly used to refer to the repeating cycle of inspections, with the understanding that the changes put in place by Local Law 11/98 are now part of the inspection process.

Who files the Local Law 10/80 report and what are the different classifications used?

Local Law 10/80 inspection reports must be filed by a professional engineer or registered architect, who, based on the inspection findings, classifies the building as safe, safe with repair and maintenance items, or unsafe. A safe building needs no further action, a building that is safe with repair and maintenance items must be repaired in the time frame listed by the engineer or architect in the report, and an unsafe building must be repaired within 30 days (or longer if the Department of Buildings grants an extension).

What are examples of unsafe exterior conditions?

Any item that threatens the safety of a pedestrian below is an unsafe condition. Examples include loose brick, mortar, or concrete; shifted parapet walls or stonework segments; improperly secured window-mounted air conditioners; and debris or personal items (such as flower pots) on fire escapes or windowsills. If a building's exterior walls are seriously deteriorated, the engineer or architect conducting the inspection will classify the building as "unsafe" with the DOB. If the conditions are relatively minor, the engineer or architect may file the building as "safe" but recommend that certain "repair and maintenance" items be addressed by a specified date to help prevent them from deteriorating into unsafe conditions.

When are the deadlines for conducting the facade inspections?

The inspections must be conducted during a two-year cycle, which repeats every five years. The deadline for the last cycle (the fifth since LL 10/80 was instituted) was February 21, 2002. The next (sixth) cycle of LL 10/80 inspections begins in February 2005 and runs until February 2007. Owners of buildings that require an inspection must have an engineer or architect file the report at some point within this two-year window, regardless of when the fifth cycle report was filed.

If a building missed the February 2002 deadline, is it still required to file or can it wait until the next cycle?

Owners of buildings covered by Local Laws 10/80 and 11/98 cannot skip a cycle, no matter how long past the deadline they have waited. If an inspection report has not been filed for the past (fifth) cycle, the DOB will issue a "No Report Filed" violation. Once the report has been filed, the DOB may then retroactively issue a penalty of up to a $1,000 for filing late, plus up to $250 a month for every month between the February 2002 deadline and the filing date.

My cooperative building had its last Local Law 10/80 inspection conducted in October 2001. The engineer who filed the report listed our building as safe, but he cited some items for repair within the next 24 months. Since the items are minor (a few cracked bricks), can we fix them after the next inspection?

For safety reasons and also for compliance with the law, putting off necessary repairs is never a good idea. If a building owner has not addressed repair and maintenance items cited in a Local Law 10/80 report by the specified deadline (in your building's case, by October 2003), the DOB can, at its sole discretion, downgrade the status of the property to unsafe and issue a violation. The necessary repairs would then have to be made and a follow-up facade inspection conducted to file an amended report on the repaired condition. In addition, if any repair and maintenance items, even minor ones, are not addressed by the time the next cycle of inspections rolls around, according to the law, the building must automatically be listed as unsafe.

Building owners are advised to check their last Local Law 10/80 report to see if any repair and maintenance items are cited, and if so, to make sure they have been addressed by the date given by the inspecting engineer or architect.

Our building is only six stories tall, and we never had to file a Local Law 10/80 report until last year. The building didn't get taller, so what changed?

Your building is one of many that didn't require a facade inspection under Local Law 10/80 but now does under Local Law 11/98. Most likely, one of the "off-street" facades of your building is more than six stories high. (A story, according to the DOB, is any floor level with at least half of its floor-to-ceiling height above the lowest grade-level adjacent to one of its exterior walls.) The building was exempt under Local Law 10/80 because only street-facing facades counted. Local Law 11/98, on the other hand, considers all facades. In short, if the number of stories from the top of the building to the lowest point on the ground along any portion of the perimeter is more than six stories, then that portion of the building is subject to an inspection. The only exception is when the "seventh" story is created by a very narrow areaway or window well.

The certificate of occupancy for our building says it is six stories plus cellar, and the DOB has never contacted us about a Local Law 10/80 inspection. That means our building doesn't need to file, right?

Not necessarily. The DOB does not notify building owners about whether they are required to file a Local Law 10/80 inspection report for their property; it is the responsibility of the owner to know whether a report must be filed. Secondly, the height description on your building's certificate of occupancy is not what is used to determine whether an inspection is needed; the actual physical building height is what counts. Many buildings, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn, have a certificate of occupancy that incorrectly lists the building's height as six stories plus a cellar even though the building is actually six stories plus a basement or even six stories plus a full aboveground lobby level. The distinction between cellar and basement is particularly important. A cellar does not count as a story because more than half its wall height is below ground level, while a basement does count as a story because more than half its wall height is above ground. So, if your building is six stories plus a basement, an inspection report needs to be filed, regardless of what the certificate of occupancy says.

The DOB rejected our building's Local Law 10/80 inspection report even though we made all the recommended repairs listed by the engineer who performed the inspection. In its letter, the DOB said that some of the window-mounted air-conditioners were not properly installed. Are there any guidelines on what constitutes a properly secured unit?

The proper mounting of window air conditioners is one item for which the DOB has not yet provided any specific regulations or design criteria. It is at the discretion of the engineer or architect performing the inspection to decide whether an air conditioner constitutes a potential hazard. Certainly, an air conditioner with blocks or bricks wedged in between the unit and the window sill will be classified as an unsafe condition by the DOB, as will an air conditioner that appears unstable.

Other than that, however, it is very difficult for an architect or engineer to determine the safety of window-mounted air conditioners, short of checking every single unit from inside the apartments, which isn't practical in large buildings because of the number of units and also because the location of installed units can change on a daily basis. Until the DOB issues more specific regulations, boards should require all shareholders to have window-mounted air conditioners installed with secure support brackets by a qualified contractor, and to provide written verification from the contractor to insure the safety of the unit.

Rand Engineering has been providing integrated engineering and architectural services to the co-op and condo community since 1987.

 

 

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