The debate over gas stoves has generated a great deal of heat on cable news networks and in the halls of Congress in recent weeks, but in New York City the question of whether to ban the use of fossil fuel-powered appliances has already been answered.
In December 2021, then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed legislation setting CO2 limits that effectively prohibit the installation and use of most gas appliances in new buildings and in buildings undergoing a gut renovation.
The law is being phased in depending on a building’s size. After Dec. 31, 2023, new buildings of less than seven stories must be outfitted with electric appliances, such as induction stoves for cooking and heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water. The rules will begin applying to larger buildings in July 2027. Two studies designed to help implement the law also will be conducted this year. One is a study of the feasibility, cost, and environmental impact of heat pumps, and the other will explore the impact of the new law on the city’s electrical grid.
Are Existing Buildings Affected?
Because the prohibition is aimed at new buildings, it is expected to have little direct impact on existing condominiums and cooperatives. As one recent article about the ban noted, “there’s nothing in the law that would rip gas stoves out of the kitchens where they’re already installed.”
Still, condo and co-op boards may not be able to set aside the issue of electrification so easily. Two recently enacted New York City laws—one involving carbon emissions; the other covering the maintenance of gas lines—may spur boards to explore switching older buildings from fossil fuels to electricity. So, too, could activism by board members, unit owners, and shareholders, who may be concerned about sustainability issues and the harmful health effects of pollutants emitted by gas appliances.
The most pressing concern for boards overseeing buildings of 25,000 square feet or more is the NYC Climate Mobilization Act and its centerpiece, Local Law 97. The law is designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from New York City buildings by 40 percent starting in 2024 and 80 percent by 2050.
Beginning in 2025, buildings covered by the law will be liable for a civil penalty if they exceed emissions limits. Penalties could reach $268 for each ton of CO2 over the cap. The Buildings Department may also issue violations for non-compliance with the law. By some estimates, fines could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars in some buildings if they make no changes and violate their emissions limits.
If they hope to avoid significant penalties, co-op and condo boards in large buildings may need to consider a number of capital improvements to help reduce emissions — including overhauling heating and air conditioning systems and appliances that rely on fossil fuels.
Maintaining Gas Piping
Another factor that could drive condo and co-op boards to switch to electricity is the growing expense of maintaining aging gas infrastructure in their buildings.
In 2016, New York City enacted Local Law 152, which held that after Jan. 1, 2020, all residential buildings in the city must have their gas piping systems inspected once every four years by a licensed master plumber. The law was passed in response to gas-related explosions in Harlem and the East Village in 2014 and 2015.
If an inspection reveals any unsafe or hazardous conditions, the licensed master plumber must immediately notify the building owner, the utility providing gas service to the building, and the NYC Buildings Department. The building owner must then take immediate action to correct the conditions in compliance with New York City construction codes and any required permits.
To bring a gas system up to code, a building might need more than a few repairs. Faulty gas lines may require the replacement of boilers, pipes, and fixtures within residential units—an expensive and potentially disruptive project that will require the building to hire engineers and architects and to file plans with the city.
As one property manager with a large portfolio of New York buildings recently told local news website The City, condo, and co-op boards may need to “bite the bullet now” and switch to electric because “the regulations concerning gas are getting stricter and stricter, and the upkeep for the gas lines will be prohibitively expensive.”
What Condo and Co-Op Boards Can Do
Making such a momentous decision will require boards and building managers to do significant research and planning. For instance, condo and co-op boards will need to ascertain whether their building is covered by Local Law 97. Once they have done this, they must calculate the emissions limits for the building using classifications created by the city. Determining an individual building’s classification is not a straightforward process, however, and boards likely will need professional assistance to ensure they are complying with the law.
Navigating financing for retrofits is complex as well. A number of grants, rebates, and tax incentives are available for electrification (such as those included in the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act), but boards may need assistance in understanding what is available and whether their buildings are eligible.
Engaging counsel early in the process can be critical. Attorneys who specialize in New York City condominium and cooperative law can help boards, managers, and owners locate financing options for electrification projects and negotiate with lenders and government agencies. They can also help ensure a building fully complies with Local Laws 97 and 152 and assist the board in creating a long-term action plan to address CO2 emissions.
To learn more about how the experts in condo and coop board law at Guzov LLC can assist your building on electrification and other sustainability issues, contact us for a consultation, or visit our Condominium & Cooperative Law Firm practice page.