A poorly maintained building facade poses risks for pedestrians and adjacent structures. If loose masonry elements fall off, they can cause fatal injuries to people walking by, or they can damage other properties around the building.

Property managers have always been aware of the risks posed by deteriorated walls. However, the NYC government decided to take action until 1980, after a piece of terracotta fell from a building and killed a student on the Upper West Side. The result was Local Law 10, requiring wall inspections at regular intervals to prevent similar accidents.


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LL10 was moderately successful, but several accidents in the late 1990s prompted the NYC Department of Buildings to review the requirements in the law. The result was Local Law 11, a stricter version of LL10, also known as the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FIPS).

NYC has a combination of environmental conditions that are very demanding for building walls, making some elements susceptible to a faster deterioration.

  • Significant temperature differences between summer and winter.
  • Air pollution from vehicles and building heating systems.
  • Salt and its corrosive effect, given the proximity of the sea.

Requirements of Local Law 11

To meet Local Law 11, NYC buildings taller than six stories must have their walls inspected at five-year intervals. The inspection must be carried out by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI): a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer with at least one year of related experience.

The law also requires the inspection of appurtenances: lighting fixtures, signs, guardrails, windows, air conditioners and any objects attached to the wall that can fall if poorly supported. There are more than 12,000 buildings in NYC subject to LL11 inspection requirements.

Properties have different deadlines for inspection reports, to avoid having the NYC DOB staff overwhelmed with paperwork. The deadlines of the current inspection cycle are the following:

  • Block # ending in 4, 5, 6, 9 = Feb. 21, 2017
  • Block # ending in 0, 7, 8 = Feb. 21, 2018
  • Block # ending in 1, 2, 3 = Feb. 21, 2019

Any building in the first two groups and without an inspection report has already missed the deadline. The report can still be submitted, but penalties apply:

  • $1,000 per year for a missed deadline. Note that the full penalty applies for year fractions, for example delivering the report late by a few days.
  • An additional $250 per month, until the report is filed.

Although LL10 had the same purpose as LL11, its requirements were much less demanding. The following table summarizes some of the main differences between the laws:

REQUIREMENT

LOCAL LAW 10

LOCAL LAW 11

Inspection procedure

Allowed the use of binoculars for visual inspection from afar.

Mandates a physical inspection of walls, using scaffolding.

Walls inspected

Only required the inspection of front facades, and lateral walls up to 25 feet from the street.

Requires the inspection of all walls, except those located 12” or less from an adjacent building.

Reporting the condition of wall elements

Two options:
- Pass
- Fail

Three options:
- Safe
- Safe with a repair and maintenance program (SWARMP)
 Unsafe

Under LL11, any wall elements classified as Unsafe represent a public hazard and must be fixed within 30 days. Failure to correct an unsafe condition results in a penalty of $1,000 per month.

  • If this is not possible for reasons beyond the building owner’s control, extensions of up to 90 days may be granted by the NYC DOB.
  • Regardless of the time required to fix an unsafe condition, the building owner must immediately deploy safety measures such as construction fences. This minimizes the risk for pedestrians while the issue is fixed.
  • After unsafe conditions are fixed, the inspector files an amended report indicating they are now safe.

If an element is considered Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP), there is no immediate hazard but it could become unsafe if left unattended.

  • SWARMP conditions must be repaired within a reasonable time-frame specified by the inspector, but before the next inspection cycle.
  • If a SWARMP condition is present for two consecutive inspection cycles, it is considered unsafe the second time.

The DOB NOW: Safety web portal has been in operation since September 2016, and all documentation related with LL11 is now handled online. In addition, the website can be used to pay penalties and to keep track of a building’s compliance status. Therefore, creating an account is a prerequisite for the LL11 compliance process.

Conclusion

Compliance with LL11 is very important for property owners in NYC, since you can rest assured that you building does not pose a risk to the public. There are also hefty penalties for missed deadlines, so you should not overlook LL11 inspections.

Note that issues not related with public safety may be detected during a building inspection: some examples are air leaks around air conditioning units, and insulation deficiencies. In other words, you get the added benefit of finding ways to improve your building.

If your building still uses window-type air conditioners and you are planning an upgrade, the best recommendation is moving forward with the project before the next LL11 inspection. Any unsafe conditions associated with AC units will force you to repair elements that you plan to replace anyway. The same logic applies if you are planning an upgrade for outdoor wall fixtures.

 

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