Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, is scared by how few co-op and condo boards are taking the necessary steps to cut their buildings' carbon emissions enough to avoid fines under Local Law 97 of the Climate Mobilization Act, which begin in 2024.
“Everyone is not thrilled by this legislation,” Rothman tells The Real Deal. "What scares me most is how few New Yorkers are tuned into this at this late date."
Since buildings account for more than two-thirds of the city's carbon emissions, Local Law 97, which was passed in 2019, has set emission caps in 2024, 2030 and beyond. Buildings that fail to comply will face stiff fines. Fearing those fines, the real estate industry has for years been seeking changes to the law, but the objections have come almost entirely from commercial property owners. Condos and co-ops have been virtually absent from the conversation. Many members of that world don’t even seem to know about the law. Rothman could not recall a single conversation about it with condo or co-op board members in the past eight months.
Into this vacuum, the city's Department of Buildings has released draft rules for Local Law 97, which will be open for comment at a public hearing on Nov. 14. The final rules are expected to go to the city council by the end of the year and passed soon after.
Older co-op and condo buildings that are not sealed as tight as new construction face a particularly steep climb to get in shape for Local Law 97. Marc Schwartz, a member of the 1235 Park Ave. condo board, views his 60-unit, 1928 building like an aging parent.
“My dad’s around the same age, and they’re both constantly in need of a bypass or something,” Schwartz says. Orsid, the building’s property manager, approached Schwartz in 2019 to tell him the building needed to get its act together.
The building brought on a contractor to identify how it could reach compliance. Since then, the board has added small efficiencies as maintenance needs arise: better insulation to accompany a new roof and modern steam heating valves, for example.
“A lot of the work we did 10, 15 years ago is now coming back to help us,” Schwartz says. “But if you had to do all this at once, it’s a big problem.”
Orsid launched an information blitz to get the nearly 200 co-ops and condos it manages up to speed with the law’s deadlines. “People think, ‘Oh, compliance, I just need to check a box,’” says Dennis de Paola, an executive at the company. “That’s not how this works.”
It can be particularly difficult for condos, where residents own their units rather than shares in the building and may be resistant to change. There can also be delays in financing and difficulty lining up contractors. It can even be complicated for public officials whose jobs revolve around housing. Pierina Sanchez, who chairs the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, lives in a 75-unit co-op, one of the buildings that must reduce its emissions by the 2024 deadline. Sanchez says they lack the engineers to help get into compliance.
“I personally feel the pain, along with my neighbors,” Sanchez says, adding that raising monthly maintenance even a few hundred dollars could be “catastrophic” to a senior citizen on a fixed income.
Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. As Rothman knows so well, it's time for co-op and condo boards to get their heads out of the sand — and get busy making plans.
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