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Facade Repairs Just Got More Expensive

Tom Soter in Building Operations on May 6, 2016

New York City

Facade Repairs
May 6, 2016

As the new cycle for Local Law 11 inspections begins, new regulations, previewed at an industry meeting staged by the Department of Buildings (DOB) on April 18, are causing consternation among building owners and their professionals. The upcoming requirements for Local Law 11, formally known as the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), will affect about 14,000 buildings over six stories high throughout the city, and will be, in the words of Howard L. Zimmerman, president of Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, “more involved, more intense, more expensive.”

There are already signs of trouble. For instance, Eric Cowley, president of Cowley Engineering, has prepared and sent out a number of job proposals, which may have to be amended to reflect the new FISP directives.

Co-ops and condos with enclosed terraces will also face increased scrutiny, which may ultimately lead to many of the terrace enclosures being removed. That’s because many were installed without a permit and may exceed allowable zoning square footage. The DOB is also raising the price of the permits, which used to be about $2,500. They’re now up to $6,500.

Finally, the new requirements will give less discretionary power to architects and engineers. Says Zimmerman, “Where, in the past, the architect might have said, ‘Well, you can fix this in three years,’ the buildings department is now taking a harsh look at that and saying, ‘Are you really sure about that?’ There's a tremendous amount of liability. I think most professionals are going to err on the side of caution now.”

The proposed new regs are being issued in response to a pair of accidents in Manhattan last year – one involving the death of a two-year-old girl from falling terracotta on West 74th Street, the other involving falling bricks from an East 63rd Street high-rise.

“The buildings department is on high alert for older buildings with decorative stone,” Zimmerman notes. “Any buildings with such decorative stone will call for a higher level of inspection” to satisfy the FISP safety requirements.

The new rules on facade inspections will require:

More scaffold drops. While one inspection of the exterior (typically by scaffold drop) is the minimum currently required by code, Zimmerman notes that the DOB is now saying that one drop may not be enough. Depending on age, construction type, repair history, and observations, additional drops may be necessary. “We'll be doing more facades than street-facing side walls,” says Cowley. “You're required to do one street-side drop. I think more sides will have to be checked. Maybe even two on the street side, and it could be four drops instead of one, probably at about $3,500 a drop.” In extraordinary cases, scaffold drops can cost up to $25,000 apiece.

More probes. Cowley says that the DOB believes the recent accidents were caused by poor original construction and/or problems with the construction as it aged. “Therefore,” he says, “it's not so much what you can see from the outside anymore. It becomes more of what you need to uncover through probing and more thorough examinations. But if our findings are inconclusive, or we find [problems], then we've got to tell the boards, ‘Listen, this entire section of wall has to be rebuilt.’”

Some also worry about fines from DOB when problems are not corrected fast enough – due to a possible shortage of professionals to perform inspections.

The bottom line, says Zimmerman, is this: “They're ratcheting up the requirements, and I think it's going to cost more. How much more, I can't tell you at this time.”

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