Late last month, New York City's Buildings Department gave building owners, including co-op and condo boards, some breathing room for complying with Local Law 11 of 1998, usually referred to as the facade inspection law.
Stephen Varone, the president of Rand Engineering & Architecture in Manhattan, said the law required that the exterior of all city buildings more than six stories tall be inspected every five years. Inspection reports for the current five-year cycle must be filed by Feb. 21.
But, Mr. Varone said, architects, engineers and building owners fear it will be very difficult for owners to comply with the law. The problem involves relatively minor defects reported in the last inspection cycle as "safe with a repair and maintenance program," he said.
Under the regulations, he said, items in that category cannot be "carried over" on the next inspection report but instead must be corrected before the Feb. 21 filing deadline. If those items are not corrected, the building must be designated as "unsafe" on the current report. And once a building has been designated as unsafe, the owner must erect a sidewalk shed — basically, covered scaffolding that protects the public along any portion of the sidewalk that abuts the building — and immediately begin repairs.
"I have over 100 buildings right now that have items in that category," Mr. Varone said. "And the minute I file a report for those buildings, they are going to be treated as if they have active hazards."
In fact, Mr. Varone said, since most buildings in the city had items that were listed as safe with repair and maintenance in their last report — which means that they must be corrected by Feb. 21 — owners are now finding it virtually impossible to find contractors who can perform high-quality work at reasonable prices in time to meet the deadline.
Recognizing that the situation would result in a rush by hundreds of buildings, perhaps thousands, to erect sidewalk sheds to repair defects that are not an immediate threat to public safety, Mr. Varone and a coalition of organizations representing building owners asked the Buildings Department for help. It responded by announcing an alternative filing program on Aug. 21.
Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the department, said building owners who file their current inspection report by Nov. 21 and who have carried over items filed on the previous report as "safe with a repair and maintenance program," will not have to install sidewalk sheds immediately if they meet certain conditions.
For example, the report must contain a signed statement from a state-licensed architect or engineer attesting to the structural stability of the building and asserting that there is no need for a sidewalk shed.
Moreover, the report must include a schedule for repairing the items and a letter from the owner requesting an extension. The initial extension is for 90 days; and an additional nine-month extension can be requested. Ms. Givner said the department would inspect the building to verify there is no immediate need for a sidewalk shed.
Kathleen Needham-Inocco, a principal in Midtown Preservation, an engineering firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y., who worked with Mr. Varone and the coalition, said the ability to get an extension of up to 12 months will be a significant benefit to owners. "If they can bid this work out next year, they'll get better quality work at more reasonable prices," she said.
The Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums is sponsoring a seminar on Tuesday to explain the program. Details are available at www.cnyc.coop or at (212) 496-7400. The Buildings Department is holding a workshop on Sept. 21. For more information: www.nyc.gov/buildings or (212) 566-5120.
From The New York Times, September 10, 2006
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