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The Good, the Bad and the Scary News on Local Law 97

New York City

Local Law 97, Climate Mobilization Act, carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards, PACE financing.
Aug. 22, 2022

The New York City Council enacted Local Law 97,/a> in 2019 as part of the pioneering Climate Mobilization Act aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. The law zeros in on large buildings, including co-ops and condos, setting limits on their emissions. The city’s one million buildings generate nearly 70% of its carbon emissions because much of the energy for their heating, cooling and lighting — roughly 90% of it — comes from burning fossil fuels

Now, with just 16 months until the Jan. 1, 2024 deadline to meet the first thresholds — and with the threat of fines that could climb to millions of dollars a year for buildings that do not — The New York Times has news that alternates between good, bad and scary. The good news is that nearly all the 50,000 buildings subject to the law will be in compliance for the first deadline, according to city estimates. But that leaves 2,700 buildings across the city where action is needed to avoid fines — heating systems tuned up, leaky windows replaced and energy-efficient lighting installed.

The bad news is that the the emissions thresholds fall significantly for the second deadline, in 2030, which is likely to mean that many more buildings will need to make major changes — not just tuning up building systems but replacing them — or pay hefty fines.The scary news is that many building owners are still operating in the dark.

“We don’t really know what our obligations are and what our penalties are going to be,” says Debbie Fechter, a partner at Digby Management, a family-owned real estate business that has four buildings in Manhattan subject to Local Law 97.

Some co-ops have been pushing back. In May, two co-op complexes in Queens and the owner of a mixed-use building in Manhattan sued the city, alleging that the law would saddle them and others with “draconian” fines and asking that enforcement be blocked. The city has asked the courts to toss the lawsuit. Any resolution is likely years away.

Meanwhile, the city continues to write rules on how to comply with Local Law 97, which are expected to be released later this year. City officials have said they are sympathetic to struggling owners and can waive or lower fines for those making “good faith” efforts. But the city has hit pause on a financing program called PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) that would help pay for energy-saving retrofits without any upfront cash outlays.

“Local Law 97 is telling everyone in the real estate business: Climate change is your problem,” says Rohit Aggarwala, the city’s chief climate officer. “Part and parcel of being in the real estate industry is moving to a carbon-free future.”

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