Local Law 11, which is also known as the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), was passed in the wake of several tragedies. It replaced its predecessor, Local Law 10. Both laws were attempts to keep a building’s façade safe to protect pedestrians. Buildings taller than six stories are inspected every five years to make sure items such as bricks, concrete, and other parts of the façade do not fall and hurt people. This covers buildings that are seven stories or higher, but a six-story building with a basement qualifies.
There are over 12,000 buildings subject to the law. As a buyer, you can inquire about the building’s FISP inspection status. We recommend this since it is not hyperbole to state that there are lives at stake, along with financial repercussions.
Why it’s important
The city’s legislature passed Local Law 10 in 1980 in response to a college student’s death from falling stonework. This required inspections every five years, with a pass or fail grade given. The building had to fix major issues, and it was inspected again. Then-Mayor Giuliani signed Local Law 11 in 1998 after several incidents over the years, including a partial building collapse the prior year. This tightened up Local Law 10, adding new requirements to correct the deficiencies from the prior law to increase public safety.
A Local Law is passed by the City Council and becomes part of the city’s building code. Then, the Department of Buildings puts in rules to carry it out.
The new requirements
Previously, the inspector only graded building as pass or fail based on the front façade and side walls up to 25 feet from the street. The current law mandates inspecting all four sides.
The new requirements must include a physical inspection of scaffolding, whereas previously, it was just a visual examination using binoculars or a telescope. The inspector did not have to do an up-close inspection. It also mandates providing three grades. The report must classify the different façade elements as safe, safe with a repair and maintenance program, or unsafe.
If the inspector deems it safe, there are no issues, and the building is in good condition. The building’s board and management do not have to take any action.
A Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP) means it is safe, but the building requires repairs and maintenance. While technically safe, the board needs to address these issues quickly. The Qualified Wall Inspector must provide a month and year when these need to get fixed. If the building does not address these issues, the inspector it will push it to the unsafe classification during the next inspection. A structure does not get two consecutive SWARMP classifications. It becomes either Safe or Unsafe.
A building must address an unsafe classification immediately, and have it repaired within 30 days. Right away, the building must put in protective measures such as a fence or sidewalk shed for the public safety. As part of FISP, the new law also strictly enforces window air conditioning units having supporting brackets. If there are no brackets, the building is deemed unsafe.
After the board receives the inspection work, the city mandates the building to complete a report outlining a timetable which provides deadlines for the work. The Department of Buildings sends it own inspectors and issues citations, which helps it track the cases and push the building to make the repairs promptly.
If the Department, after conducting another inspection, finds the building is not addressing the violations adequately, such as not undergoing the necessary repairs, and the unsafe conditions remain, the building could face the Environmental Control Board, a judicial entity that hears the matter. The building owner could face a penalty of $1,000 per month until the unsafe condition is fixed.
Preventing a dangerous situation
FISP requires owners to have exterior walls inspected on tall buildings. As previously mentioned, this is required every five years, and the building must file a report with the city’s Department of Buildings.
A New York State Registered Architect or Licensed Profession Engineer, called a Qualified Wall Inspector, must stay on the site and conduct the inspection. A junior colleague can do some of the work, but the registered architect or licensed engineer must physically remain to supervise. Previously, under Local Law 10, the professional could sign off on the inspection passing off the duties to a junior colleague. Then, he/she then files the report with the city.
There are filing deadlines, which are the building’s responsibility. The current inspection cycle started in February 2015 and runs through February 2020. While the building itself has five years between inspections, there are two-year windows, based on the building’s block number, in which the owner must complete it. These are from February 2015 to February 2017, February 2016 to February 2018, and February 2017 to February 2019.
The inspector must file his/her report within 60 days. This used to take a lot longer. The board should sign off on the report quickly, even if it means calling a special meeting in the summer. If the building fails to file the report, there is a $1,000 per year penalty, and an additional $250 per month late fee.
Why buyers should inquire
If you are contemplating purchasing a co-op or condo unit in a building subject to FISP, you should know the status. A board may not adequately reserve for these repairs, requiring a special assessment on the unit owners/shareholders, or an increase in the maintenance/common charges. Your board should have a plan to deal with the issues, which can become very expensive, and you should inquire about it. This could mean delaying other projects, such as a new roof or community room. Ideally, the board has a maintenance program, alleviating expenses from potential repairs, including those arising from Local Law 11 inspections.
But, the public safety issue is even more critical. You want to make sure your building is safe for everyone, including you and your family.