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Habitat Magazine December 2020 free digital issue

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Shocking, Positively Shocking

I’m worried. While sitting in the lobby or walking through a common area, someone might get an electrical shock. The doorman, for instance, might accidentally stick his finger in an electrical outlet.

It could happen.

Okay, well, if not a doorman – because you figure he is usually found sitting or standing, but rarely bending (which is what he’d have to do to stick his finger in an outlet) – how about kids? They’re always poking their fingers in places they shouldn’t. The outlets are too narrow, you say? Well, how about the cat? Maybe it’ll get its claws caught in the outlet and get a shock. But, come to think of it, I owned three cats for a number of years, and although they often got into mishaps, this never seemed to be an issue for them…

Then I’m puzzled. What did that legislator mean when he said that Local Law 39 of 2015 was an important law? To find the answer, I guess it’s time for another episode of Novel Ways to Fund the City Budget. Previous episodes include “Is It Sidewalk or Is It Park?” in which the city extracted money from unwary bicyclists who were riding (as they have done for decades) on the upper level of Riverside Park by redefining the upper park level as sidewalk and subsequently handing out $30 fines.

There was also the episode, “Ride the Bus Free! Until We Catch You (and Fine You $100),” about the MTA’s new “Select Service” buses, for which you have to get a ticket from a machine before you go on board. Here’s what that presumably made the episode so popular among the fundraisers at City Hall: since the bus driver doesn’t check your ticket, unscrupulous types can ride free… at least until the MTA swat team boards the bus and removes the unsavory fare beaters who then have a month to ponder the error of their ways before having to pay a $100 fine in court.

But my favorite episode has to be “Shocking: Positively Shocking,” in which the city’s inspector makes surprise visits to innocent co-ops and condos and other multi-family buildings and fines them for not installing and maintaining “electrical outlet safety devices and tamper-resistant receptacles in certain public parts of multifamily dwellings.” Do I smell big bucks at the end of this rainbow? Think of the hundreds of thousands of outlets out there, ready to harm people until the city came up with this measure.

It’s officially called Local Law 39 of 2015, but those in the know refer to it as “The Shakedown Act of 2015.” It states, “Safety devices for certain electrical outlets required … the owner of a multiple dwelling shall install and maintain protective caps, covers or other safety devices over electrical outlets in the public parts of such multiple dwelling … An owner who fails to install or maintain protective caps, covers or other safety devices in accordance with this section shall be liable for a Class A violation.” Class A is listed as a non-hazardous violation, in the same class as keeping pigeons or chickens, unlawfully, or placing “an improper seat for a water closet.” (Which begs the question: if it’s non-hazardous, why should we care?)

Employing the old, “Here’s a useless gift that we’re leaving for you” tactic that the Greeks used so well in their war with Troy, Local Law 39 seems to me to be a kind of Trojan Horse. It gets the city inspector into your building, where he’s sure to find minor infractions with big fines. And that’s the name of the game we’re playing here, right?

Tune in next week for a new episode of our series, Mayor de Blasio’s Believe It – or Not! – the shocking true story of “How a Sleeping Man in a Parked Car Can Be Arrested for Drunk Driving and Still Have to Pay the Fine.” Believe it – or not!

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