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Co-op and Condo Boards Are Getting the Jump on Garage Inspections

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on July 19, 2023

New York City

Garage inspections, Local Law 126, co-op and condo boards, fatal garage collapse.

Temporary shoring allows garages to remain open while repairs are under way (image courtesy of Cowley Engineering).

July 19, 2023

When a poorly maintained, century-old parking garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan on April 18, killing one person and injuring five others, alarms sounded in co-op and condo board rooms across the city.

“That was definitely a wake-up call,” says Eric Cowley, principal at Cowley Engineering and one of 52 city-approved inspectors of parking structures. “We started getting calls from boards asking what the rules are under the new law.”

The law is Local Law 126, which went into effect in January 2022 and mandates that all parking structures in the city must be examined once every six years by a Qualified Parking Structure Inspector, similar to the Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors who conduct facade inspections every five years under the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, formerly known as Local Law 11. After the inspection, the garage will be rated safe, safe with a program of repairs, or unsafe.

Under Local Law 126, the city is divided into three two-year cycles. By the end of 2023, all garages on the Upper West Side and below Central Park must be inspected and repaired. Garages in the rest of Manhattan and Brooklyn must be inspected and repaired by the end of 2025, and garages in the other three boroughs by the end of 2027. Then the cycles start over.

(The garage that collapsed downtown in April was due for inspection by the end of this year but had not been inspected. WABC reported that the garage owner had racked up 64 violations with the Department of Buildings (DOB) dating back to 1976.)

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Cowley Engineering is now conducting about 20 garage inspection and repair projects, both for existing clients and new ones.

“I’m not seeing any potential for structures to collapse,” Cowley says, “but we are seeing maintenance that needs to be addressed to stay in front of the law. We’ve ordered temporary shoring in some cases because we saw enough corrosion of structural steel or spalling of concrete. Most of the boards I’m dealing with are saying, ‘Let’s get it fixed.’ Some boards that are in the 2024-25 cycle are already getting in touch because they’re trying to plan their budgets.”

It’s an elaborate process. After the qualified inspector performs a visual inspection, he or she will deliver a report to the client, work up drawings and file them with the DOB, then send out requests for proposals so the board can hire a contractor to do the work. After the work is completed, the engineer will leave a maintenance checklist in the garage, which must be kept up to date. 

Cowley adds that he has seen some garage inspectors, possibly thinking about the April collapse, erring on the side of caution. “At two of the garages I inherited,” he says, “the previous inspectors were on the verge of shutting the garages down. I disagreed. I believed we could put in shoring and get the work done.”

Cowley advises boards to give themselves time to hire an engineer who’s competent and a good fit for the building. Candidates should visit the building, and boards should listen to their advice. Experience and reputation are prime considerations. Some boards may be able to avoid the vetting process simply by using their current Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector, provided he's a professional engineer who's one of the 52 Qualified Parking Structure Inspectors.

“Contractor costs are going to go up,” Cowley says. “If boards are happy with their facade inspector, they should stick with that person. That way, you get more bang for your buck.”

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