Elevators aren’t the only things going up. So are the expenses that accompany new elevator regulations.
There are 60,000 elevators in this big city, and many older ones will run afoul of the law on December 14 – the deadline for complying with the city’s new “Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators.” Co-op and condo boards and their property managers can be excused for moaning, “Not again!” Since the city revised its building code in 2008, changes have seemed to come in waves.
In years past, for example, service companies were required to perform elevator inspections once every two years, and city inspectors would check randomly to make sure the work was done properly. Now, thanks to several highly publicized accidents, all elevators must be inspected once a year, and the building’s owner – or the co-op or condo board – must hire a third party to conduct a “witness test” of the elevator company’s work. The added annual cost for the tests at one large co-op in Queens was $30,000 (see “Unfunded Mandates,” Habitat, June 2010).
Here comes the next wave: the Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators. After the building code was revised in 2008, city regulation writers pored over the elevator regulations in the International Building Code and decided what to keep from the code, what to modify, and what to throw out. They finished their work in December of 2009 and gave buildings owners one year to comply. Hence, the looming December 14 deadline.
“The first place most buildings are going to have to do work is on older service and passenger elevators,” says Scott Hayes, president of Hubert H. Hayes, an elevator consulting firm that has been in business since 1981.
“The most important thing is the requirement for a safety bracket on all horizontally sliding doors. The new code requires that there be two guides on every door panel and a third safety bracket. The reason is that people have fallen through these doors and fallen down the shafts.”
The cost for these safety measures can run up to $200 per elevator door, according to Hayes. For high-rise buildings with multiple elevators, the cash outlay will be significant. But the bad news doesn’t stop there.
“Another thing,” Hayes continues, “[involves] what’s called the ‘pit’ at the bottom of the elevator shaft, the area where workers do maintenance work. A lot of older elevators don’t have a pit-stop switch, which automatically immobilizes the elevator when someone is in the pit. Now it’s required.”
Another requirement is that all elevators be equipped with a “fire recall” system, which enables firefighters to control the elevator in the event of a fire. Retrofitting an old elevator with the complicated system might be less cost-effective than replacing the elevator.
Hayes adds that there are numerous other switches and safety devices in the shaft and machinery room – something few elevators riders ever see – that will have to be installed to bring elevators into compliance with the new code.
And with the clock ticking for buildings to comply, co-op and condo boards are running out of time. Hayes, who performs elevator consulting work for some 200 buildings in the city, believes that many boards and property managers are still not even aware of it.
“Somebody has to tell them,” Hayes says, “or the city’s going to come in this December and start writing violations. A lot of elevator companies didn’t catch on until a few months after this law was passed in December of 2009. Some elevator companies are in a routine and they’re slow to pick up on new requirements. The bigger ones have a staff to keep up with these things, but the smaller ones don’t always do that. The Department of Buildings (DOB) has done a pretty good job of informing people in the industry, but you have to know where to look.”
One valuable source has been the Elevator Conference of New York, a non-profit group of elevator company owners, suppliers, mechanics, and consultants. “We’ve run seminars, and we’re trying to get the industry and the city on the same page,” says Kenny Breglio, president of the conference and president of BP Elevator. “The city has done a pretty good job at the seminars, giving presentations and handouts. It’s a massive job.”
There are two reasons it’s such a huge undertaking. First, there’s the sheer number of elevators in the city. Then, there’s the fact that New York is way behind the rest of the country. “These codes are in place across the country,” says Breglio, whose company works on some 1,500 elevators throughout the city. “New York is the last holdout. People here have been getting a free ride for years compared to the rest of the country. The reason the city finally made the change was that buildings would get violations and not make repairs. Now a lot of elevators are going to have to be modernized.”
Since the new rules went into effect last December, Breglio has seen a wide array of reactions. Says Breglio:“Some are receptive, and some don’t want to hear it because it’s not cheap. People think elevator companies are going to get rich, but I’m making more enemies than money. I’ve got customers who said, they’re going to wait and see what the fines are. They don’t have the money and they don’t know if the new rules are going to be enforced.”
DOB spokeswoman Cary Sullivan says that a schedule of fines was completed in July and went into effect in August. After performing the yearly “no-load” inspection in the presence of a third-party witness, the building must file a report with the DOB within 45 calendar days. If defects are found, they must be corrected within 45 business days of the report’s filing.
Failure to perform the yearly inspection will result in a fine of $150 per month per elevator. The same fine applies to uncorrected violations. If the elevator is not inspected or violations are not corrected within a year, the fines jump to $3,000 apiece. A “full-load” test is required every five years. Failure to perform this inspection on time will result in a fine of $250 per month per elevator. The fine for failing to correct violations will be $150 per month. After a year, both fines jump to $5,000.
Although penalties will not actually be imposed until year’s end, boards can see exactly how much they could be penalized if they do not comply with the new rules by December 14.
Says Sullivan: “It’s aimed at catching small stuff and making sure it doesn’t become a serious matter.”