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City doubles down on safety after falling facade kills architect


The city has beefed up its facade inspection team in the wake of the tragic death of architect Erica Tishman.

Department of Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca announced on Monday that she has doubled the number of inspectors on her team, hiring 12 new staff.

The news came as the DOB revealed 220 buildings were deemed unsafe during an emergency sweep carried out immediately after the Dec. 17 fatality caused by debris falling from 729 Seventh Avenue, an office building in midtown owned by Himmel + Meringoff.

The building had open violations for structural issues that DOB inspectors had previously found but the owner had ever repaired. Following the accident, La Rocca ordered a sweep of every building in the city with similar open violations and, in roughly 30 hours, found 220 out of over 1,000 still lacked proper protection.

“New Yorkers should know that we are out in force holding owners feet to the fire, so they get repair work done as quickly as possible while still protecting the public,” said Commissioner La Rocca.

“With our enhanced inspection protocols and expanded staff, owners who choose to skirt their obligations will face swift consequences.”

Property owners with buildings greater than six stories in height can now expect more frequent and thorough proactive inspections from the Department under the tough new policies.

As of today (Monday) when a building is found to have an unsafe façade, or ones with defects requiring remedial repairs, they will not only face potential enforcement actions, but will also receive additional proactive re-inspections from the Department to ensure any required pedestrian safety measures are properly installed and maintained.

DOB will be conducting follow-up inspections within 60 days of every Class 1 façade violation issued to ensure that any required public protection measures have been properly installed.

If the owner fails to implement the required public safety measures, city contractors will be brought in to perform the work at the owner’s expense.

In addition, DOB façade inspectors will now be conducting further follow-up field inspections 90 days after the issuance of the initial Class 1 façade violation, to ensure that the public protection measures are properly maintained, and that repair work has commenced to remediate any unsafe conditions.

After that, DOB will be conducting additional field inspections every 90 days to ensure further compliance with DOB orders.

In addition to the tougher violation inspection protocols, all buildings in New York City greater than six stories in height – not just those that have previously received a violation – will now face the possibility of proactive DOB safety compliance reviews.

One quarter of these taller buildings, subject to Local Law 11 of 1998, will be selected at random to receive these safety reviews, increasing the Department’s ability to proactively identify unsafe conditions on building facades and push owners to take action.

The Department is also updating our Façade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP) to enhance requirements for periodic exterior wall inspections and repairs performed by property owners.

The updated façade rule will include additional experience requirements for façade inspectors hired by property owners, adds a new requirement that owners post and maintain the building facade status in the lobby in a manner similar to elevator certificates, adds a new requirement for more hands-on inspections of facades fronting public rights of way, and greatly increases penalties for failure to make repairs to unsafe façade conditions.

Council member Robert Cornegy

Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of the Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, commented, “In addition to thoroughly investigating the events leading up to Erica Tishman’s death, we need to make sure our city is using the most up-to-date inspection protocols to ensure that building facades are not posing a danger to the public.

“We also need to be able to deploy every tool at our disposal to keep New Yorkers safe, and that includes using new methods such as aerial drone inspections, thermal imaging cameras, and other new innovative technologies.

“We need to be sure our City’s building managers, experts, and inspectors have the latitude to make use of tools already use in outside the City.
“As we continue to investigate this tragic incident, DOB’s proposed facade rule changes will contribute to a new way forward in bolstering the safety for New Yorkers. Let that be part of how we honor Erica Tishman’s life.”

JAMES WHELAN

REBNY President James Whelan applauded the new measures saying, “Public safety is paramount, which is why we support the actions of the Department of Buildings to ensure facades are properly maintained and the public is protected.

“Going forward, it is important that the City, the industry and other stakeholders put in place procedures that use the latest technologies and bolsters public confidence.”

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