A three-year-oLd boy playing with the stove in his mother’s apartment started a fire that killed 12 people in a Bronx building last December. In response, the city council passed Local Law 117, which requires owners of units in multifamily buildings to provide covers for the knobs on each gas stove in apartments where children under the age of six live. Owners must also make the knob covers available to residents without children if they ask for them.
The question is: does the law apply to co-op and condo boards?
“The law is written so poorly,” says attorney Deborah Koplovitz, a shareholder at Anderson Kill. “It says the ‘owner of a unit’ – it doesn’t say the ‘owner of the building.’ So if I were representing a co-op or a condo board on this, I might even argue that it doesn’t apply to co-op and condo buildings; it applies to the individual owner of the unit.” That complicates things. While the language of the law excludes co-ops and condos, it includes any units that are being rented or sublet. A condo unit-owner or co-op shareholder would be considered the owner of the unit – and thus responsible for making the covers available to their tenant or subletter.
So should a board let residents know that the covers are available? It’s up to each board, but it’s better not to take chances. Stacey Kwiatkoski, manager of operations at the property management company MD Squared,
says that the company will probably use a compliance company that will include the required stove-knob cover notices as part of its annual mailing: “It’s the easiest way for condos and co-ops to remain covered in those questionable situations.” Koplovitz agrees, pointing out that if a board chooses not to make the covers available and a child or pet starts a fire, the board could be sued for negligence.
It’s not too difficult to comply. SiteCompli, a company that helps buildings comply with city regulations and laws, is making the notices available to any board that wants to circulate them. Michael Jaffa, chief operating officer at Jack Jaffa & Associates, another compliance company, says that none of its co-op or condo clients have opted out of sending the stove-knob cover notices, which are packaged with other annual notices. Similar to the window-guard notices that go out each year, the stove-knob cover notices must be kept on record for five years.
As far as the actual notices are concerned, residents have four choices:
• Yes, I want stove-knob covers or replacement stove-knob covers for my stove, and I have a child under age six residing in my apartment.
• Yes, I want stove-knob covers or replacement stove-knob covers for my stove, even though I do not have a child under age six residing in my apartment.
• No, I do not want stove-knob covers for my stove, even though I have a child under age six residing in my apartment.
• No, I do not want stove-knob covers for my stove. There is no child under age six residing in my apartment.
Any residents with children who refuse the covers must put their refusal in writing.
While this extra paperwork for a small safety measure seems easy enough, managing agents can expect a few obstacles. The first is aesthetic. Many people find the covers visually unappealing.
There are no specifications from the city as to which covers should be offered, but you can easily find them online. The plastic knob covers have a hinge for adult access and cost from $5 to $15 for a set, depending on the brand and the number of covers in a package. The covers also have a one-size-fits-all design, but users have complained that they don’t fit on some recessed or oversize knobs.