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So Now You Need a 'Special Inspection' for Local Law 11 Work? What's That?

Stephen Varone and Peter Varsalona in Building Operations on May 14, 2013

New York City

public domain government-produced image, Franklin County, Va.
May 14, 2013

A. Condominium and co-op boards should be aware that special inspections have been part of the New York City Building Code since 2008, superseding what used to be called "controlled inspections." Performed at critical points during most repair and upgrade projects, special inspections verify that construction work critical to safety and property protection has been conducted according to the project's approved plans and specifications, as well as to Building Code standards. The purpose of these inspections is to enhance the safety of construction projects by improving the integrity of inspections and tests, and prevent unqualified technicians from evaluating material installations.

While the term "special inspection" has been in the Uniform Building Code since 1961, it took on greater significance after the collapse of the Hyatt Regency walkway in Kansas City in 1981, which killed 114 people. Special inspection requirements were introduced to the code in 1988 and incorporated into the International Building Code in 2000, first with an emphasis on structural safety and gradually expanded to other areas.

Special inspections cover such items as materials, equipment, installation, fabrication, placement of components and connections and construction methods. They are typically more rigorous than "progress inspections," which are performed at specified intervals during the course of construction to verify that the work substantially complies with the building code and with the approved construction documents. (Special inspectors can also perform progress inspections in some cases.)

Traditionally, the project engineer or architect performed controlled inspections — and special inspections, following changes in the city's building code — as part of their construction administration role. The inspections were not presented as a separate requirement to the building owner or manager, which is why most owners and managers are not that familiar with them.

Tighter Requirements

Over the past two years, however, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) has tightened the requirements for special inspections. A May 2012 amendment to Title 1 of the Rules of New York City specified that a comprehensive special inspection program must be performed by qualified inspectors working for a Special Inspection Agency registered with the DOB.

As a result, many engineering and architectural firms that had already been performing controlled and special inspections had to undergo extensive additional training, and the firms needed to register as Special Inspection Agencies to continue performing inspections.

The amendment also requires a special inspector to be either a professional engineer or registered architect in New York State, or have a degree in architecture or engineering with substantial experience for the given inspection, in addition to relevant certifications to perform specific inspections.

For what to expect of a special inspection, read part two.


Stephen Varone and Peter Varsalona are principals at Rand Engineering & Architecture.

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