NYC Building Codes and Local Laws are technically demanding. However, many of them are forgiving with existing properties at the time of their publication. Drastic changes normally apply only for new constructions, affecting existing buildings only during major renovations. However, Local Law 26 of 2004 is not the case, making sprinkler systems mandatory for all business occupancies above 100 feet, even existing buildings.
To be fair, Local Law 26 established a long-term deadline when first published in 2004: covered buildings were required to comply by July 1, 2019. However, that 15-year term has now been reduced to less than two years. If you own a property covered by LL26 and have not upgraded it yet, it is strongly advised that you start as soon as possible. Local Law 26 compliance involves a design process than can take several months in a large building. Then, the sprinkler system installation process will involve dismounting portions of the ceiling to set up piping and sprinkler heads.
Main Building Elements Disrupted by Local Law 26
Although sprinkler systems are complex, its main components are pumps and piping, in addition to the sprinklers themselves. Low-rise construction can normally use only a sprinkler booster pump, but high-rise construction (75 ft or higher) requires an automatic standpipe and a larger fire pump. While pumps and vertical piping can be installed with relative ease in mechanical rooms, large areas of the ceiling will likely be dismounted during sprinkler installation. This can also affect building system components that are embedded in the ceiling, such as lighting fixtures and air ducts.
If your project is a new construction still in the planning stage, the approach is easier because there is nothing to dismount. For properties already in the design stage, get in touch with your design firm regarding LL26 as soon as possible - modifying plans and specifications is easier and cheaper than modifying finished work. Keep in mind that the July 1, 2019 deadline only applies for existing properties, so your project is not covered. However, you cannot legally occupy the building until you meet the requirements of LL26.
Local Law 26 in Leased Properties
In buildings with tenant space, LL26 compliance can be tricky to manage and negotiate. Normally, the cost of the sprinkler system would go to the property owner, but there is no legal impediment to impose it on the tenant through the lease contract, as long as the tenant is clearly informed and agrees. However, considering that a sprinkler system is a capital upgrade that does not depend on the needs of any specific tenant, it is fair for the owner to assume the cost.
- If you are a property owner, be aware that tenants are unlikely to rent your space if you attempt to impose the cost of LL26 compliance on them.
- If you are looking for commercial space to rent, the best option is to look for a building that already meets LL26. Be careful with lease contracts that try to impose the cost on you as a tenant. Assuming a sprinkler system cost of $5 per square foot, and that you are renting a 30,000 ft2 commercial space, the total cost is $150,000 - you will want to keep an expense of that magnitude off your balance sheet.
Regardless of whether you are a property owner or a tenant, clear communication is key. Keep in mind that the Real Estate Board of New York Standard Form of Office Lease requires tenants to cover the cost of any legally-required modification. While not an issue with minor expenses, this clause can be a source of conflict when dealing with expensive sprinkler systems. The best recommendation is to add another clause clearly stating who bears the cost of LL26 compliance.
Meeting Local Laws 26 and 88 Simultaneously
There is another law similar to LL26 in its retroactive nature, but focusing on a different building system: LL88 of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (Lighting Upgrades and Submetering). Properties covered by LL88 must upgrade their lighting to meet the NYC Energy Conservation Code by 2025, and must also submeter electricity consumption for tenants above certain size thresholds. Coincidentally, Local Laws 26 and 88 both happen to disrupt the ceiling, so addressing them simultaneously is viable. Besides, any sprinkler installation is likely to disrupt some lighting circuits, and vice versa.
The deadline for LL88 is still several years away, but consider that the NYC Energy Conservation Code may become more stringent by then, making the lighting upgrade more expensive. As a simpler project to design and execute, the lighting upgrade is unlikely to disrupt sprinkler system installation, and if you must focus completely on sprinklers you can still leave the lighting upgrade for later.