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DOB Turns to Tech Sector to Enforce Deluge of New Laws

New York City

City Council mandates, sidewalk sheds, building inspections, zoning, co-op and condo boards, tech.
July 8, 2024

It's not the heat, it's the humidity. In a similar vein, it's not the new laws — it's how to enforce them.

Acknowledging this fact of life, the city's Department of Buildings (DOB) is turning to the tech sector to help it enforce the deluge of new laws, including new rules on removing sidewalks sheds, on preemptive building inspections, on zoning changes under the City of Yes program, and on Local Law 97, the enforcement arm of the city's ambitious Climate Mobilization Act, which requires all building owners, including co-op and condo boards, to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions under prescribed caps.

The overwhelmed DOB is following the lead of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Department of Environmental Protection by teaming up with the Partnership for New York City, which runs two “Innovation Labs,” where technology companies compete annually to offer ideas to local government agencies. The programs have had a real impact, Crains reports. The MTA, for example, says it has saved millions of dollars by using a software to redesign bus routes that it first tested through the Transit Tech Lab.

It's an idea whose time has come for the DOB, says Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York, who notes that all the new mandates have “put more demand on DOB staff without any real upgrade in the tools that they have to deal with these new challenges and expanded responsibilities.”

The inaugural DOB Buildings Tech Lab will ask companies to apply by Sept. 20 with ideas that fall under two categories: process management, such as expediting building inspections and code reviews; and data utilization, using existing data to automate more work.

Among the issues that Buildings Tech Lab applicants may tackle is the new mandate handed down by the City Council last month that requires DOB to use predictive technology to identify buildings that are at risk of collapse. That new mandate was inspired by two recent building collapses.

Companies might also turn their attention to sidewalk sheds, as DOB recently began an in-depth study of its facade inspection rules as part of Mayor Eric Adams’s effort to take down unsightly scaffolding.The DOB has a $212 million budget for the coming fiscal year under the city budget approved last week — less than the $219 million it was allocated at the start of last year. DOB Commissioner James Oddo has at times expressed oncerns that his agency does not have the resources to take on many new responsibilities.

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