By: Joe Czaszynski
In New York City, the FISP program (formerly Local law 11/98) was implemented with the public’s safety in mind. The law states that any building greater than 6 stories must undergo critical examination by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI). After the inspection is performed, the QEWI will classify the building into one of three categories. Safe, SWARMP (Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program) or Unsafe.
If no deleterious conditions are observed on a subject building’s façades, the building will be classified as Safe. This means that at the time of inspection, no items have deteriorated or will deteriorate to the point that they must be replaced over the next five years. This classification is very diff icult to obtain. Since many buildings have been around for quite some time, façade components will likely need some level of repair or maintenance. Unless a full façade restoration has been performed, or a building is fairly new and being inspected for its first time, a Safe designation is less often granted.
Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP) means that while the building is not considered to be unsafe, a repair and maintenance plan must be put into effect. Aging items should be repaired and/or maintained between the next one to five years. This designation cannot be given if any facade component will become unsafe within the next 12 months.
An Unsafe classification is exactly what it sounds like. If any facade component is deteriorated to the extent that it will pose a safety risk within the next 12 months, the building must be classified as Unsafe. Once this designation is determined, immediate actions must be taken. The QEWI must contact the NYC Department of Buildings to make them aware of the Unsafe designation and a sidewalk shed must be installed immediately.
Most building owners take great pride in their buildings. An unsafe filing, sidewalk shed installation along multiple elevations, and the imminent required restoration project are unplanned, inconvenient and perhaps costly to them and the building’s occupants. Some building owners might think that an unsafe designation is a subjective matter of opinion, and that if a different QEWI inspected the building, a different classification would result. This is an incorrect assumption. If the NYC Department of Buildings reviews the conditions and photos in the report, and determines the classifications to be incorrect, they will reject the report. In our experience, this only goes one way. Based on a photo in the report, a SWARMP condition might be questioned. The DOB will require that the building exterior consultant return to further investigate the SWARMP condition to ensure it’s not unsafe. The QEWI might have to recheck that there is no loose material or might be required to sound out a particular façade area. In no case, does the DOB think that we overestimated the deleteriousness of a façade component or the timeline for repair to make it safe.
A QEWI’s knowledge and experience with various building components plays an important role in their classification decisions. They understand that their primary focus is public safety, and they have the ability to evaluate if and when repairs are necessary. In order to better prepare for the FISP inspection, the QEWI will review the previous cycle’s facade inspection report, if available, along with any procurable documentation on past restoration projects at the building.
Besides the huge responsibility of protecting the public by properly inspecting and evaluating buildings in the FISP universe, the QEWI also inherits substantial liability. Failing building components such as stone or brick can fall and strike people below. If an unsafe building is designated safe or SWARMP, a QEWI can lose their credentials or even possibly serve jail time. QEWI’s must take these building component evaluations very seriously in order to make the correct determinations.