What goes up must come down – at least that’s the theory (and hope) every time you step into one of New York City’s 70,000 elevators, which make over 30 million rides a day. And be warned: just so the elevators don’t come down too fast, the city will soon be requiring that building owners conduct more frequent tests – and, consequently, spend more money.
The good news for users of “vertical transportation” is that the city’s overall safety record is excellent, reports Harry Vyas, elevator director of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), offering that there were only 10 accidents in 2007. Even so, he adds that DOB continues to “identify new and innovative ways to force owners to maintain their elevators in a safe and lawful condition.”
Starting January 1, 2009, the existing elevator inspection and testing procedures will end, and a new elevator inspection code will go into effect. Because it requires more elevator testing, condo and co-op boards should be prepared for added costs.
According to Dan DeBlasio, executive vice president and partner with the BOCA Group, a full-service vertical transportation consulting company, roped elevators under the old law had three tests in a five-year period: two “no load” tests every two years and one “full load” every five years. The five-year test remains, but now a combined inspection and test are required every year. Currently, hydraulic elevators have two-year tests, and they will also have a yearly combined inspection and test. This means there will be two additional tests for roped elevators and three additional tests for hydraulic.
Full-service elevator maintenance contracts generally cover existing two- and five-year tests but condo and co-op boards will be hearing from their contractors regarding new fees for the extra tests. As to the dollar amount, DeBlasio offers: “Building owners/managers should expect the maintenance contractor to charge between $700 and $1,000 per elevator for the additional annual test and $1,400 to $2,000 per elevator for the five-year test.”
Another key change to the code, which will accrue more fees, is that a third-party private inspection agency not affiliated with the elevator maintenance contractor needs to be hired to witness and certify the test. Currently, the maintenance contractor can do the inspection on his own, which in some cases can lead to questionable practices.
“Right now there isn’t a level playing field,” says Don Gelestino, president of Ver-Tech Elevator, an elevator service repair and maintenance company serving New York City’s five boroughs. “This will help bring the standards up. There are contractors that make sure things are right, and then there are guys who literally drive by the building, collect their $200 as they pass ‘Go,’ and call it an inspection.”
Even so, coordinating schedules with a third-party inspector is going to be “very tough,” says Gelestino, and will require a concentrated effort and cooperation on all fronts to bring the necessary parties together to perform the tests. Expert-witnessing costs per elevator could reach $450 for annual tests and $900 for five-year tests and again, contractors will be looking to owners to pick up the tab. “We will have to charge an additional fee for the third party to come in,” says Gelestino, who advises boards to start looking at their financials right now. “It will enhance the safety of the building so it’s a dollar well spent, but not a dollar that they may already have in their budget.”
John Beckmann is principal and chief operating officer of Van Deusen & Associates, full-service consultants and engineers for vertical transportation. He was also on the committee that wrote the new code and firmly believes boards will now be getting much more out of their elevator contractors.
“The equipment will not only be safer, but more reliable and last longer.” As always, critical violations require immediate shutdown and repair, but non-hazardous violations will have to be listed as well. All paperwork resulting from tests will need to be filed with the city within 45 days and any violations corrected within that time. The city will conduct random testing to verify violations have been addressed.
Though the changes will not be in effect until January, DeBlasio suggests boards review their existing contracts now and adopt a plan of action. “It is important to get new requirements in your contract either through a rider or a brand new contract. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of the contractor when these tests come up. The sooner you get new pricing and lock that in the better. You also want the contractor to promise to comply with the 45-day filing period and cooperate with the third-party witness in terms of schedule.”
Beckmann cautions that co-op.condo boards make sure the new elevator inspection code is properly enforced. “It is important to know that the liability to perform these tests, and retroactive provisions, is on the owners. It is their responsibility. If their contractor fails to perform, or fails to get them the right information and a board wants to go to court and say ‘I didn’t know,’ the courts are not going to accept that. You are the owner. You had better make it your business to know.”
With all the buzz surrounding the new elevator inspection code, we asked industry people in the know what sort of challenges may lie ahead and what co-op.condo boards should be concerned about.
Stephen Kleva, CEO, City Spec: “The most challenging component of the new elevator code will be the requirement mandating a third-party witness on-site for all elevator inspections. From a logistics standpoint, the need to coordinate two inspection agencies will be a very cumbersome task. Scheduling will be an issue for all companies performing inspections. This is where software— with the ability both to track elevators’ compliance as well manage the scheduling of inspections—will be beneficial to the market. Another significant effect of the new code is the additional cost to now hire a second inspection company. Depending on the specs and number of elevators for a particular building, the fees for an inspection performed by a single inspection company range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. With the new regulations, this cost will double.”
Tomas Ledden, owner/director, Gotham Elevator Inspection: “The new code states that whoever is maintaining your elevator can no longer do the inspection, which is a wonderful thing because that was a conflict of interest. I think the biggest challenge ahead is to educate and inform co-op and condo boards as to what all the changes are and how they will be affected by them. You could invite people, such as ourselves, to board meetings to explain these changes. We are happy to act as translators. If you don’t know what something means, ask. This is a good opportunity to take control of your elevators.”