Bill Morris in COVID-19 on November 20, 2020
When nonessential construction projects were allowed to resume last summer after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic eased, the city and state imposed strict protocols that had to be followed before workers could enter buildings and outdoor construction sites. Contractors were tasked with making sure their crews underwent temperature checks, wore personal protective equipment, practiced social distancing, and had access to outdoor toilets and hand-sanitizing stations, among other precautions. Many co-op and condo boards imposed additional restrictions. The city’s Department of Building (DOB), in turn, started sending inspectors to make sure contractors were following the city and state protocols, in addition to the Building Code.
But who’s inspecting the inspectors?
That question came up recently at a construction site when a contractor insisted that DOB inspectors undergo a temperature check before entering the site, according to Gene Ferrara, president of the engineering consultancy JMA Consultants, which was not involved in the project in question. The inspectors insisted they were exempt from the rules, but access to the site was denied. “There was some confusion whether the inspectors were subject to this,” Ferrara says.
The mix-up has led the DOB to clarify the situation for all contractors, building owners, and co-op and condo boards. Patrick Wehle, an assistant commissioner at the DOB, wrote a letter dated Nov. 17 to Roberta McGowan, executive director of the Building Owners & Managers Association of Greater New York. “Like all New Yorkers,” Wehle wrote, “the Department is extremely conscious of protecting the wellbeing of the public and our staff. As such, prior to starting work each day, all staff including our inspectors are required to conduct a self-screening and check of their temperature. The Department’s inspectors are not subject to screening temperature checks from external entities when operating in an official capacity. Should an inspector arrive at a site, they are fit to work… Refusing entry to inspector prevents them from performing this important work.”
Ferrara says he welcomes the clarification, and he is alerting his clients. “It’s important for co-op and condo boards to tell their staffs – supers, handymen, contractors – that when a DOB inspector comes to the site, he should not be denied access if he refuses to take a temperature check. Refusing entry will result in violations.”
The need to allow DOB inspectors to enter a construction site or building without a temperature check does not mean boards have to rescind their rules and protocols, which are sometimes elaborate. At some buildings, for instance, once workers are on the job site in the morning, they must remain there for the entire day to limit foot traffic. Some boards are trimming the number of hours that crews can work. Many co-op and condo attorneys have attached COVID-19 riders to standard alteration agreements. One Upper West Side co-op has two dozen provisions, including an addendum that allows for modification of the project schedule “taking into consideration that other occupants are working and/or schooling from home.” A condo in the West Village is directing contractors to disinfect the service elevator and service entrance three times daily.
As a second surge of COVID-19 threatens the city, co-op and condo boards must realize that their powers have limits. But that doesn’t mean they should be letting down their guard.
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