Council ramps up inspections to find dangerous buildings

“Transformative” program will make some owners file corrective action plans 

New York City Passes Law to Ramp Up Building Inspections
Council member Pierina Sanchez and Buildings Commissioner James Oddo (Getty)

The Department of Buildings will create a program to find dangerous properties before disaster strikes and track owners’ progress in remedying hazards.

The City Council on Thursday approved a bill requiring the agency to launch a data-based proactive inspection program to identify buildings that have façade, structural or other issues that may affect the integrity of the building or its neighbors.

The Adams administration is on board, meaning the mayor will sign the bill into law.

It will require the Department of Buildings to inspect any building with “a high risk of structural failure,” Council member Pierina Sanchez said ahead of a vote by the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which she chairs. Sanchez is the bill’s prime sponsor.

Risk status will be based on factors including a building’s history of violations and 311 complaints and the track records of its contractors.

Building facades, boilers and other elements are currently inspected based on set schedules or certain complaints, but the new program aims to identify risk before a complaint is filed or something dangerous happens.

The Department of Buildings will create rules for when such buildings require a corrective action plan, which owners will need to submit within 30 days. The plan must include details of violations and timeline for addressing them.

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The measure was inspired by the partial collapse of a seven-story, 46-unit property at 1915 Billingsley Terrace in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx in December. The incident temporarily displaced hundreds of residents and led to the suspension of an engineer who had inspected the building.

An engineer in 2020 had found the facade to be unsafe, but repairs were delayed, the City reported.

Another collapse that might have been prevented by the new law occurred in February. Juan Ganche, a 33-year-old construction worker, was killed when the first floor of a two-story Brooklyn home fell in. The building had an active stop-work order and work was being done without a permit, according to officials.

The bill that passed on Thursday is less stringent than an earlier version, which set out more specific rules for the inspection program, including assigning buildings a “risk-based score” and requiring owners to submit a plan for fixing an unsafe condition within 10 days.

Buildings Commissioner James Oddo expressed concern about that legislation during a hearing in April, saying that mandated proactive inspections could put a “strain” on the agency’s resources. The Adams administration mollified this concern by allocating $4.7 million to help the agency staff the new program.

“Too many times, we have seen careless property owners fail to keep their buildings safe and neglect their responsibilities,” Oddo said in a statement. “The creation of a proactive building inspection program will be transformative, allowing us to investigate potential structural issues and protect New Yorkers from dangerous building conditions that could turn deadly.”

The bill will take effect in 180 days. 

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