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Co-ops & Condos Caught as DOB Steps Up Local Law 11 Enforcement

Frank Lovece in Building Operations

Let's start with the basics: The city has recently ended what is called Cycle 6 of Local Law 11/98. These five-year cycles for façade inspection began in 1980 with Cycle 1. Each cycle has a two-year reporting period in which your engineer or architect must file a report with the DOB on the cause of any façade deterioration, offering a timetable for repair.

This report must be accompanied by a signed statement by the building owner — in this case, the co-op or condo board — acknowledging that you've received a copy of the report and acknowledging an  "awareness of the required repairs, if any, and the time frame for same." The building is then classified as "Safe," "Unsafe," or "Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program"  (SWARMP).

The Cycle 6 reporting period ran from February 21, 2005, to February 21, 2007. From then through 2010, buildings with required repairs should have been making them.

What's Different This Time

But Cycle 6 was different from previous cycles. First, there was an expedited schedule for repairs. Then, there was a DOB "Technical Report Form," called TR-6, that required a second certification by the building owner. This new form states that any SWARMP conditions in Cycle 5 were either corrected or got reclassified in the Cycle 6 report as "Unsafe." Some of the crackdown may stem from boards not having supplied the DOB with this new, second certification.

But another reason, suggests Eric Cowley, president of Cowley Engineering, is that, "When we did our inspections for the sixth cycle, we put in a time frame [as required] for when the repair should be done. Boards get these reports, the board changes, the report gets put in a file, this information may be on page 19, and they don't pay attention to it." And when the DOB finds the work it hasn't been done, you get fined.

Boards traditionally have said,

Ah, let's do that next year.'

One managing agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, believes board procrastination is part of the problem. Sometimes with major repair, boards "traditionally have said, ‘Ah, let's do that next year.' They kept putting it off. I'd find myself at the tail end of this and be scrambling to get workers in at the last minute, especially if something hazardous was found."

Additionally, the DOB's Cycle 6 instructions for architects, engineers, and building owners required more careful documentation than ever before, even though the actual inspection procedures remained unchanged. And these new instructions also clarified existing requirements, and so things that inspectors may have overlooked before because of vagueness are now fair game.

Just so you know, these new or clarified requirements include full photographs of each façade, in addition to the close-up photos of defects previously required; and an itemized comparison of Cycle 6 and Cycle 5 SWARMP conditions to confirm that THE Cycle 5 conditions were fixed.

The Paperwork Trail

All these new forms and requirements means new paperwork, which boards and even professionals might not necessarily be aware of. "Sometimes, the work has been done but the engineer neglected to file it with DOB," says Anton C. Cirulli, managing director of the 85-year-old management and residential brokerage firm Lawrence Properties. "Sometimes, it is a DOB error. In any event, once the violation is put on the building, it is a hassle getting rid of it."

Complicating that hassle is that many of the violations aren't from the DOB at all but a sister agency, the city's Environmental Control Board (ECB) — which, according to Local Law 11 experts, is much less forgiving. Whereas DOB violations won't necessarily result in fines if the DOB sees you're following procedures in good faith, ECB violations require court appearances and almost always result in fines.

Everyone understands the safety concerns underlying all this, says JMA Consultants president Ferrara, noting that they started with the 1979 death of a Barnard College freshman killed by falling debris and extended to the recent fatal construction-crane accidents. "It's in the name of safety and it's important," he admits. "But, like everything else, sometimes things go a little too far. Building a skyscraper, that's one thing. Restoring a 15-story building is a little different."


Adapted from Habitat October 2010. For the complete article and more,  join our Archive >>

Illustration by Dave Bamundo





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