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New York City Council passes legislation that combats building collapses with new inspection program

New York City Council passes legislation that combats building collapses with new inspection program

A residential building collapse in East Harlem in 2014 (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

New York City Council members proposed legislation recently that would establish a proactive inspection program for buildings. The legislation augments Local Law 11, the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, that requires buildings over 6 stories to be inspected and implement necessary repairs every 5 years.

The new bill (Intro. 904-A) requires DOB to “create a risk-based inspection program to identify hazardous buildings, using a predictive model to weigh factors including but not limited to building data, violation history, and prior facade inspection reports.”

The Committee on Housing and Buildings shepherded Intro. 904-A. It was sponsored by 11 city councilors including Crystal Hudson, Christopher Marte, and Tiffany Cabán. It is supported by Mayor Eric Adams, who has final say over whether it becomes local law.

The announcement comes after a series of dangerous residential building collapses in East Harlem, Little Italy, and the Bronx, including last year’s disaster at 1915 Billingsley Terrace in Morris Heights which displaced 170 people from their homes.

Illegal construction, aging building stock, and deregulation all contribute to New York’s building collapse problem. At many buildings, violations piled up for years before collapses happened, as there wasn’t legislation in place that pressured building owners to quickly address the issues, or penalize them for negligence.

With this new legislation, DOB will conduct proactive inspections to determine the likelihood of structural collapse using the predictive model mentioned above. If the predictive model determines that a given building might collapse, the owner will receive a notice of violation and be required to submit a corrective action plan within 10 days. The building owner will also be excluded from receiving any non-emergency permits until all facade defects are corrected.

The corrective plan must be implemented within 30 days. If that doesn’t happen, DOB officials will impose escalating penalties for any violation centered on an unsafe condition that was present during the prior facade inspection program cycle.

New York City councilor Pierina Sanchez’s jurisdiction includes 1915 Billingsley Terrace, which collapsed in 2023. Sanchez brought Intro. 904-A across the finish line together with the 10 other city councilors.

“There were warning signs here,” Sanchez told local reporters. “[DOB] had issued over 350 violations in this building. Eighty-three alone were in 2023. Many of these were class C and class B violations, which means that they were dangerous to the health and safety of the residents.”

“If we’re honing in on the worst actors, then maybe we’re catching things a little bit earlier,” Sanchez continued. “Maybe that heightened scrutiny doesn’t allow them to hire whoever is more likely to make a mistake. So this is really about elevating the standard of how we’re taking care of our buildings.”

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