By: Shahenda Algendi
The Local Law 10 in New York City was first developed after an incident in 1979 when a woman was struck by a piece of terra cotta that fell off a building on West 115th Street. This sparked a need for regularly mandated reviews of New York City’s building exteriors. Throughout the years, the law has been revised and updated to what we refer to today as the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), formerly known as Local Law 11. Building owners are responsible to maintain their building facades to ensure the safety of the public. This means that they must retain a design professional referred to as Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors, to conduct an inspection to identify all conditions pertaining to the building’s façade.
The conditions must be identified and reported by the Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI). The QEWI is an approved state-licensed structural or civil engineer or state-licensed architect. QEWIs are listed within a FISP (Façade Inspection and Safety Program) report, as reference for the building owners to set out a plan to maintain their buildings to meet the minimum safety requirements. These FISP reports are to be issued every 5 years to the NYC DOB. A false or inaccurate report could cause a series of issues for the building owners, as well as jeopardize the safety of the public.
If the QEWI neglects to report identified conditions to the Building Owner, there could be potential long-term issues, both financially and legally. The purpose of a FISP report is to inform building owners of the status of their buildings so that they may respond to the requirements to address all Safe with Maintenance and Repair or Unsafe conditions; it also may allow an opportunity for the Owner to prepare a capital improvement plan.
If there are unreported issues that are not captured in the FISP report, these may require larger and more expensive repairs in the future, which could put building owners in a financially tight spot without a plan for implementation. For example, small repair items like mortar repointing and sealant replacement can result in extensive repairs down the road if left unaddressed for just one FISP cycle. In short, a small cost “savings”, in the short term, can translate to larger expenses in the future, depending on the accuracy of the FISP inspection and report. The more thorough the FISP report, the better the opportunity there is to implement an effective maintenance plan and ensure public safety. To ensure that buildings are being maintained and proper FISP inspections are being performed, the New York City Department of Buildings Inspectors perform regular site visits to the buildings; if a FISP related condition is discovered to be missing from the report, the building owners may receive notices of code violations that will be levied against the property.
Vague FISP reports that do not provide detailed locations of all conditions, can cause difficulty during future cycles, especially if a different QEWI is performing the work. For example, if the QEWI simply states that a condition is located on the 7th floor along the east façade, without providing photos or an elevation with a specific window line to indicate the exact location, it may be difficult to locate during the next cycle. If the next inspector cannot locate this exact condition, there is no way to determine if the condition has worsened or requires remediation. A thorough report will indicate each condition and location; map out all specific conditions, locations, and window lines on a sketch building diagram; and include photos of all identified conditions. For the new FISP Cycle 9, the NYC DOB has mandated that all conditions classified as UNSAFE be identified with an exact location and a photo attachment. This detailed information allows the Building Owner to easily arrange a plan to address the immediate concern conditions, as well as allow for future Inspectors to evaluate the classification of the previous conditions observed.
Inaccurate reports conducted by inexperienced QEWIs can also be counterproductive and costly. Conditions that are incorrectly classified as unsafe may result in superfluous costs for the Building Owner; for example, if a sidewalk shed is installed unnecessarily, the Building Owner would then be paying for a sidewalk shed installation, additional extension filing fees, and fees charged by the QEWI. Building owners should consider all potential financial implications when retaining a QEWI to perform an accurate FISP inspection and provide a detailed report.