The massive fire that ripped through a Bronx apartment building in January — killing 17 people, including eight children — is a stark reminder of the importance of knowing and complying with the city’s fire safety regulations. Fire safety notices have been required to be posted on the interior side of apartment doors for almost 20 years, but now this has been given enforcement teeth. Here is an overview of what’s required, how to comply and the penalties for ignoring these requirements. While these regulations apply to all residential buildings with three or more apartments, this overview assumes co-op and condo boards to be building owners.
NYC Fire Code, 401.6.4 - Distribution and Posting. The NYC Fire Code and FDNY rules require buildings with three or more apartments to prepare, post and distribute to residents various fire and emergency preparedness guides and notices. It requires that the Fire Emergency Preparedness (FEP) notice be posted in the lobby or common area — which instructs occupants on how to respond if there’s a fire — and it also requires that the notice be posted on the inside of all apartment entrance doors. Now, an amendment details how apartment notice postings will be enforced and clearly puts the onus on boards to ensure that this is done.
Notice Requirements. There are separate FEP notices for fireproof and non-fireproof buildings, and you’ll need to distribute the correct one to residents in your building. The door notice must not be larger than 6-by-9 inches, printed in English (other languages may also be included), and either framed under a clear Plexiglas cover, laminated with a firm backing or printed on a waterproof vinyl decal. The regulations require residents to grant access to their apartments so that co-op and condo boards are able to comply with this requirement.
Enforcement. Boards are responsible for making sure the FEP notices have been posted. There are two options available to ensure compliance: You can obtain written certification from all shareholders or unit-owners that the notice has been posted inside their doors; or you can create a program, inspecting each unit at least once every three years to confirm the notice is posted.
When residents don’t certify. If a resident fails to submit written certification, the board must conduct an inspection of the apartment within one year. If a certification form is returned saying the notice is missing or damaged, the board must replace it and require the shareholder or unit-holder to promptly post it.
Additional Requirements. The board must replace a missing or damaged notice in an apartment before a change in occupancy and upon the shareholder or unit-owner’s request. The board must also maintain a written record of the distribution of the notices and certification forms or detailed documentation of an inspection program for a minimum of three years.
When the New Requirements Go Into Effect
The amendment to the FEP notice requirements was originally intended to go into effect on April 30, 2021, but was delayed due to COVID. Boards now have until April 30, 2022, to get the certifications completed or the inspections performed.
Penalty for Failure to Comply
Penalties are steep for failing to comply. Fines for each violation can be as high as $5,000, plus a civil penalty of up to the same amount. If a board willfully violates these new rules, it is considered a misdemeanor and carries a possible fine up to $10,000, six-month imprisonment, or both, for each offense. Plus civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each offense can be enforced.
Fire Emergency Preparedness Notice
• For fireproof building: www1.nyc.gov/assets/fdny/downloads/pdf/codes/non-combustible-fireproof-building.pdf
• For non-fireproof building: www1.nyc.gov/assets/fdny/downloads/pdf/codes/combustible-non-fireproof-building.pdf
The notices are also available in multiple languages:
Tips For Boards
Certification forms. Boards or their management companies will have to draft the certification form to give to shareholders and unit-owners, since the city doesn’t provide one. It should include a place for a signature and date under the certification: “I hereby certify that the fire safety notice provided by the building owner has been posted and is being maintained on the inside of the main entrance door to my apartment. I understand false statements are punishable by law.”
Jack Jaffa & Associates, a violating-tracking company that helps co-ops and condos comply with city regulations, now includes the certification form along with other safety notices it sends to residents at its clients’ buildings every January. “We combined everything into one package and color-coded the forms in order of importance — red for fire safety notices, black for window guards and lead notices, and blue for stove knob covers,” says Michael Jaffa, the company’s chief operating officer. “It all goes out automatically and streamlines the process.”
Apartment inspections. Getting residents to post the fire safety notices won’t be easy. “Needless to say, people are not thrilled with having these on the inside of their apartment doors,” says Stephanie Cardello, the vice president of compliance at the management company FirstService Residential. Gaining access to apartments will also be a challenge, especially with COVID. “Boards are in a tough spot because you can’t force people to let you in,” says Cardello, who suggests that management ask residents to submit photos showing that notices have been posted on their doors. “That will at least take the pressure off supers and building staff, but the problem is people can just take them down again.”
Penalties. Boards can take comfort in the fact that if they are cited for violations, they ultimately don’t have to foot the bill. “You can pass the cost along to the offending shareholder or unit-owner by imposing a fine, which will sit on their account until it’s paid,” says Aaron Shmulewitz, a partner at the law firm Belkin Burden Goldman. “But the bottom line is that boards and managing agents have to be damn sure to keep following up.”