Thousands of New York City co-op and condo residents can breathe a little easier today. The Department of Buildings (DOB) has formalized regulations for enclosed balconies and terraces. Instead of requiring that all enclosures receive permits, the new regulations require only that the structures be certified as safe during regular inspections under the Facade Safety and Inspection Program (FISP), also known as Local Law 11.
The new regulations state: “The Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector’s report on FISP compliance is limited to safety, condition, and structural stability of the balcony enclosure.” The regs continue: “Any structurally unstable enclosure shall require the building owner to immediately notify the department and commence repairs or other means to make the enclosure safe.”
The new regulations were preceded by months of uncertainty, as the DOB floated the idea of requiring that all enclosures receive permits. The idea was triggered by the fact that enclosures increase available living space in buildings, in possible violation of maximum floor area ratio standards set out in the building code. Since thousands of the enclosures were built years ago without permits, many by prior owners of the apartments, current owners and their co-op and condo boards were anxious that a costly nightmare was in the making. Many feared they would be forced to remove the enclosures.
In the end, the DOB decided safety comes first. When the word came down, many boards and their professionals exhaled with relief.
“This [new regulation] is what everyone’s been waiting for,” says Gene Ferrara, president of JMA Consultants, who works with many boards on Local Law 11 compliance. “I called for a clarification from DOB, and they told me if you can prove structural stability of a greenhouse or balcony, then basically it’s safe. You no longer have to have a permit. This brings things back to reality.”
Adds Stephen Varone, president of RAND Engineering & Architecture: “The DOB, as they should, wants to focus on safety. This just says, ‘Worry about safety.’”