Bill Morris in Building Operations
When an inspector from the Department of Buildings (DOB) came to a Lower East Side co-op to oversee the resumption of gas service to a recently purchased apartment, he had to pass through the laundry room in the basement. That was when the trouble began.
“He didn’t see any sprinklers in the laundry room,” says Isaac Katz, head of management at A.M. Katz, which manages the 236-unit co-op that was built in the late 1920s. “He checked his device and didn’t see a laundry room on the building’s Certificate of Occupancy. I explained to him that we got the same violation in 2015, and the judge ruled in favor of the co-op, saying we were grand-fathered because we’ve had a laundry room since 1931.”
The DOB inspector was unswayed. He wrote seven violations to the co-op laundry room for, among other things, lacking sprinklers, using illegal flexible dryer vents, and not being listed on the most recent Certificate of Occupancy, which was issued in 1954.
“Illegally constructed laundry rooms, without the proper safety features and DOB inspections, can pose a serious fire hazard to occupants, their neighbors, and first responders,” says DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky. He adds that to install a new laundry room in an existing multiple-family dwelling, including a co-op or condominium, the owners must hire a Licensed Master Plumber who can obtain the required permits to properly install the gas lines and the required automatic sprinkler system. The DOB must inspect the permitted work and provide authorization for the system before it can be turned on. The building owners will also be required to obtain an updated Certificate of Occupancy from the DOB.
The Lower East Side co-op’s hearing on the seven violations before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) is scheduled for April 9. If the violations are upheld at the hearing, OATH will issue civil penalties based on a standardized schedule.
Welcome to the brave new world of city regulations and inspections in the wake of recent fatal gas explosions. One engineer has estimated that as many as half of the laundry rooms in the city are illegal under the stringent new rules. Making them legal isn’t cheap. It can cost more than $150,000 to make an illegal laundry room safe enough to pass inspection, which requires not only sprinklers but fire-rated walls, rigid gas lines, and drains in case of flooding. And before the DOB will issue a new C of O, buildings have to clear all past violations, some of which are years old.
“The city is really, really cracking down on this stuff,” says Bill Waters, vice president of operations at Automatic Industries, which installs and operates laundry rooms. “You have to have sprinklers if you have gas dryers, and flexible vents are not allowed anymore. There are a lot of smaller buildings that have a laundry room without a C of O because years ago it wasn’t required. Bigger buildings tend to have a C of O.”
Adds Denise Savino-Erichsen, the company president: "When we go into a new property or upgrade an existing laundry room, we try to educate boards what the regulations are. We try to explain to them what they need to do to bring the building up to code."
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