Buildings to Strengthen Facade Inspection Process

Image Credit: NYC DOB.

Safety sweep of 1,331 facades found that 220 needed additional pedestrian protections. On December 30, 2019, the Department of Buildings Commissioner, Melanie E. La Rocca, announced enhancements to Buildings’ existing facade inspection process. Buildings will double its existing facade inspection team by hiring twelve new staff positions to the unit, including eleven inspectors. The current staff includes eleven facade inspectors, eleven administrative support staff, and six technical staff.

The expansion comes after a tragic incident in December 2019 where a woman, Erica Trishman, was killed by a falling piece of a building facade in Midtown. After the December 17th tragedy, Buildings conducted a sweep of every facade it had previously identified as requiring repair work or with an “unsafe” Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP) designation. The sweep was built upon Buildings’ overall efforts to hold building owners accountable.

Within thirty hours, Buildings inspectors visited all 1,331 buildings included in this enforcement sweep to determine if they required additional pedestrian protections. Inspectors found that 220 of those buildings lacked proper protection and will receive Class 1 violations which will require the owners to put up protective measures.

Buildings will implement tougher policies with respect to facade inspections. All buildings higher than six stories will now face the possibility of proactive Buildings safety compliance reviews. Pursuant to Local Law 11 of 1998, twenty-five percent of these buildings will be randomly selected to receive these safety reviews. If a building is found to have an unsafe facade, or ones with defects requiring remedial repairs, the building owner will face potential enforcement action and will receive proactive re-inspections from Buildings to ensure any required pedestrian safety measures are properly installed and maintained.

Buildings will conduct follow-up inspections within 60 days of every Class 1 violation issued to ensure that required public protection measures have been properly installed. If such a building owner fails to implement required public safety measures as ordered in an initial facade violation, City contractors will perform the work at the owner’s expense.

Further, Buildings facade inspectors will conduct follow-up field inspections 90 days after the issuance of the initial Class 1 facade violation, to ensure that the public protection measures are properly maintained, and that repair work has commenced to remediate any unsafe conditions. Subsequently, Buildings will conduct additional field inspections every 90 days to ensure further compliance with Buildings’ orders. The new process will strengthen Buildings’ ability to ensure that property owners are taking the required action to make their buildings safe.

Additionally, Buildings is updating the Facade Inspection and Safety Program by enhancing its requirements for periodic exterior wall inspections and repairs performed by property owners. The update includes additional experience requirements for facade inspectors hired by property owners. Building owners must also post and maintain the building facade status in the building’s lobby in a similar manner to elevator certificates. Further, the update adds a new requirement for more hands-on inspections of facades fronting public rights-of-way and greatly increases penalties for failure to make repairs to unsafe facade conditions.

Commissioner La Rocca stated, “In the wake of this tragedy, we are doubling-down on the proven tools at our disposal. New Yorkers should know that we are out in force holding owners feet to the fire, so they get repair work done as quickly as possible while still protecting the public. With our enhanced inspection protocols and expanded staff, owners who choose to skirt their obligations will face swift consequences.”

Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of the Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, stated, “In addition to thoroughly investigating the events leading up to Erica Tishman’s death, we need to make sure our city is using the most up to date inspection protocols to ensure that building facades are not posing a danger to the public. We also need to be able to deploy every tool at our disposal to keep New Yorkers safe, and that includes using new methods such as aerial drone inspections, thermal imaging cameras, and other new innovative technologies. We need to be sure our City’s building managers, experts, and inspectors have the latitude to make use of tools already use in outside the City. As we continue to investigate this tragic incident, DOB’s proposed facade rule changes will contribute to a new way forward in bolstering the safety for New Yorkers. Let that be part of how we honor Erica Tishman’s life.”


By: Laine Vitkevich (Laine is a CityLaw Intern and New York Law School Student, Class of 2020)


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