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Support Grows for Bill to Cut Carbon-Emission Fines for Co-Ops, Condos

Astoria, Queens

Local Law 97, Intro 772, building carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards.

The Queensview co-op in Astoria, which sits on 10 acres of land, would benefit from Intro. 772

June 14, 2024

At last, some good news for middle-class co-ops and condos struggling to comply with Local Law 97. A bill to soften the climate law's sting has gained the support of 25 members of the New York City Council — just one vote shy of the majority that would push the bill through to passage.

Sponsored by Linda Lee (D-Queens), Intro. 772 would allow co-ops and condos to count gardens and other green spaces as part of their square footage when calculating their buildings' carbon emissions limits. The change would increase the amount of carbon those buildings are allowed to emit and effectively mean owners would need to spend less on carbon-cutting retrofits to comply with the law.

Local Law 97, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, requires building owners to bring their carbon emissions under prescribed caps, or face fines beginning next year. In future years, the caps become progressively more stringent. The law is designed to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings, which now account for about two-thirds of the city's total carbon emissions.

In addition to changing the square-footage calculations, Intro. 772 would exempt buildings with an average per-unit assessed value of $65,000 or less from fines between the years 2030 and 2035; and it would halve fines for those buildings between 2036 and 2040, and slash them to 25% from 2041 through 2045. Lee’s bill would also require the Department of Buildings to consider adjusting emissions limits for co-ops and condos if they’ve taken certain steps to reduce their carbon footprints, such as converting from oil to gas or installing solar panels.

“We're just trying to think creatively about how to minimize some of the fines and the penalties that we know are coming down the pipeline,” Lee tells Crain's. “I think, practically speaking, (Local Law 97) set a really high bar that really could impact people financially in a negative way.”

One of those people is Alicia Fernandez, treasurer of the 726-unit Queensview co-op in Astoria, Queens, which sits on 10 acres of green space. She tells Gothamist that it will cost each resident $51,000 on average to shift to electric heat and ovens, among other renovations. Fully electrifying the buildings — a prime path to carbon reduction — would cost $60 million. The cost is so high that residents, who are mostly retirees, say it's more feasible to pay the $1,000 yearly per-unit fine set out in the buildings law.

“There's no possible way that we could raise the $60 million,” Fernandez says, adding that as the law is currently written, "it’s really promoting paying the fines. The easy way out for all these buildings is … just pay the fine and let’s kick the can down the road.”

Such thinking, of course, does not sit well with Local Law 97's backers. “(Intro 772) eliminates penalties for a large number of co-ops and condos and garden apartments, so it makes the law effectively voluntary because there's no penalty,” says Pete Sikora, a campaign director at New York Communities for Change. “If there's no penalty, there's no need to follow it. It would gut the world's most important city-level project.”

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