Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on March 4, 2014
Why? One reason is that there are more regulations than ever and, consequently, more chances to lose track of a violation. "The city is famous for 'nail and mail,' where they post a violation to [a property's] front door, and you never see it," says Ira Meister, president of the management firm Matthew Adam Properties. "You used to just find out about violations when you got a notice that you've defaulted on a hearing and it's a $1,000 fine."
Indeed, with fines for violations spiraling upward, cooperative and condominium managers can't take a chance in losing paperwork and getting fined. "The late-filing fee for elevator inspection can be up to $3,000," explains Paul Gans, director of operations at New Bedford Management. Dan Wurtzel, president of FirstService Residential (formerly Cooper Square Realty), notes: "It only takes one misstep where a violation for some reason is not mailed to the building or to the managing agent, and a hearing date is missed, a notice of violation goes to default, and you now have to pay a [large] fine and reopen the case."
Meister says that since he has used a violation-tracking service, "If one of my buildings gets a violation today, tomorrow I will know about it."
Four on the Floor
If a violation is not mailed
to the building or to the manager
and a hearing date is missed, a
notice of violation goes to default.
At least four companies — Alert Service, DOB Alerts, SiteCompli, and Empower New York (no relation to the New York State energy-saving program EmPower New York) — compile data from such city agencies and offices as the Department of Buildings (DOB), Department of Finance, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), the Department of Sanitation, and the Environmental Control Board (ECB). Delivered as e-mail alerts and compiled reports to managing agents — or to the boards of self-managed buildings that subscribe — the data include not only inspector-issued violations but also 311 complaints about your building, upcoming deadlines for filing required paperwork, calendar alerts, and more.
Elevator violations, for instance, are the single most common type the DOB issues, according to many property managers and tracking companies. An inspector will issue a violation "that may or may not get to the building owner [or manager] in a timely fashion," says SiteCompli co-founder Jason Griffith, "and it's not uncommon for the [paper] copy [of the violation] to get misplaced." Violation-tracking companies alert the property manager as soon as the violation enters the city's computer system, so the manager is immediately aware.
SiteCompli, additionally, has a companion site, Viocopies.com, at which a subscriber can enter the elevator violation number and download the document for printing — often needed for things like refinancing.
"Traditionally you'd send an expediter to the DOB, where they'd file to get a copy and wait for weeks for it," Griffith says. Michael Jaffa, chief operating officer of Alert Service, says his company provides this data as well, included in the monthly cost.
The companies can also give alerts before violations are even issued. "Someone walking down the street reports a dangerous construction issue at your building," says Empower NY chief executive officer Jack Wurtzel. "It takes the DOB [an average of] 9.6 hours to respond to a reported dangerous issue, which is a pretty quick response. All of us in this market will send you a DOB alert," he says, adding that Empower supplies it "within four minutes of the call being placed." This gives boards and others the chance to correct the issue before an inspector arrives and issues a violation.
"Complaints get addressed before they turn into full-fledged violations, which saves our buildings money," says Stephanie Cardello, FirstService Residential's director of compliance.
Tracking software can also let you refute the city when it claims something wasn't done when you have documentation that it was. "We can see if the DOB says an inspection wasn't done, but we have a report showing it was done and it's simply that the DOB is backed up 60 days," says Cardello. In fact, she amends, "Sixty days is being a little kind. Last year, they were backed up six months."
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