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CONDO AND COOP RULES OF THUMB: INSPECTING THE FAÇADE OF THE FISP

Real Property

Local Law 11, formerly Local Law 10 has a new official acronym – FISP – the Façade Inspection Safety Program.  Before we discuss what exactly the law entails, let’s examine its history.

A little background

Like so many other regulations involving New York City buildings, the origins of the façade inspection laws are tragic.  Local Law 10 was signed into law by former mayor Ed Koch following the 1979 death of a Barnard College student who was struck by a piece of terracotta that fell from the 8th story of a building in Harlem.

Local Law 10 required every building in the city with more than 6 stories to be inspected by a licensed engineer or registered architect every 5 years, but contained a number of exceptions to the inspection requirement.  It would transpire that the 1979 death of a Barnard College Student was not the last façade-related injury.  In 1982, a young attorney was struck by a piece of a cornice that fell from a 30 story building in Brooklyn.  At the time, a little more than 2 years following the date Local Law 10 was enacted, approximately 40% of regulated buildings had yet to file a report so Local Law 10 was given a second chance.  However, a series of partial building collapses in late 1997 resulted in then-Mayor Giuliani signing Local Law 11 into law in March, 1998.

Local Law 11/FISP

Local Law 11 removed many of Local Law 10’s exceptions to inspection, requiring the inspection of all exterior walls including use of a suspended scaffold or other means of observing the façade from the ground to the top of the parapet.

Inspectors are further required to notify the Department of Buildings of any unsafe conditions. Pursuant to inspection, buildings are classified as safe, unsafe, or safe with a repair and maintenance program (SWARMP).  SWARMP conditions are those identified as safe at the time of the inspection, but at risk of developing into unsafe conditions before the beginning of the next FISP inspection cycle.  Any item that could fall from a building is an unsafe condition, whether it be a loose brick, mortar, shifted parapet walls or stonework, or other loose items on fire escapes or window sills.  An unsafe building must be repaired within 30 days.

Following a fatal accident involving a fall from a 17th story balcony in July, 2013, Local Law 11, now the FISP, was updated to strengthen requirements for balcony inspections, which include inspection of terraces, walkways, corridors, fire escapes, the roof and setbacks, and also  railings, which include balusters, intermediate railings and panel fillers.

As intricate as the façade inspection process is, it may seem easier to just ignore it.  As a building owner, you should be sure to file your reports on time.  Failure to file incurs a penalty of $1,000 per year.  Filing late triggers this penalty in addition to $250 per month in late fees.  Thinking of delaying repair to an unsafe condition?  Thing again.  Failing to meet deadlines in repair of unsafe conditions will cost you $1,000 per month in penalties, pro-rated daily, until the unsafe condition is fixed.  If you think there is a chance you may not meet your deadline, file for an extension – which will only cost you $135.  Most importantly, be sure you hire qualified, experienced professionals.  If your report is incomplete or fails to follow format, content and organization requirements, you face additional fees, penalties and in some cases, the costs of a re-inspection.

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