Fine for contractor upheld

161-15 Rockaway Boulevard. Image Credit: Google Maps

DOB inspector found blockage on stairwell leading to street exit. On December 3, 2019, a Department of Buildings inspector visited a construction site in an office building located at 161-15 Rockaway Boulevard in Queens. Upon examination of the second-floor jobsite, the inspector found that the landing separating the two flights of an exit stairwell was being partially blocked by large plastic containers designed to hold construction materials and refuse. The stairwell in question led to a door with an all-caps exit sign. The door led out to 145th Road, a roadway just off the Belt Parkway. Unable to find anyone at the worksite, the inspector posted a summons on the front door of the building.

The summons charged Upper Level Construction, the contractor performing the offending renovation project, with failing to provide unobstructed egress from the building. At an OATH hearing on March 13, 2020, Upper Level Construction conceded the existence of the obstruction created by the plastic containers but argued that the stairwell and its landing did not qualify as an exit passageway under the Building Code.

Hearing Officer J. DeVito rejected Upper Level’s argument, sustained the Class 1 charges against Upper Level Construction, and assessed a fine of $1,250. Upper Level appealed.

The OATH Hearings Division Appeals Unit affirmed, albeit on slightly different grounds. The Board set aside the issue of whether the landing constituted an exit passageway and the related charges. Instead, the Board focused on the charge under Building Code § 27-369, which requires that corridors “be kept readily accessible and unobstructed at all times.” The Board held that the stairwell and landing was a corridor within the meaning of the Building Code, which even Upper Level Construction did not dispute. Because the landing was obstructed by large plastic containers, impeding access to the exit door, the Board upheld the hearing officer’s decision to sustain the Class 1 charge under § 27-369 and the $1,250 fine.

DOB v. Upper Level Construction, OATH Hearings Division Appeals Unit, Appeal No. 2000765 (August 13, 2020).

By: Sean Scheinfeld (Sean is a former CityLaw intern and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2021.)


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