By Al Barbarino
Scott Stringer wants to break the Department of Buildings in half — literally.
A new report from the Manhattan Borough President that criticizes recent drops in the number of citywide elevator inspections calls for the creation of an “Office of Inspection” that would focus solely on inspections and safety.
“The backbone of every city is the structural safety of its buildings,” Stringer said in a statement.
“At a time when elevator safety is on the minds of every New Yorker, we must be painstakingly vigilant about how we police violations. At the same time, we must expand the skyline of the city and encourage smart development. The current Department of Buildings is doing neither well, and that’s why it’s time to rebuild the New York City Department of Buildings.”
Compared with the period January 2006 through September 2008, citywide elevator inspections have declined from an average 7,930 per month to 5,723 per month, a decrease of roughly 28 percent.
Meanwhile, the average time it took DOB to conduct initial reviews of building applications increased from 14.5 to 25.6 days, a 77 percent increase, according to the report. While the DOB does not dispute the numbers in the report, the agency contends that it’s a question of quality over quantity when it comes to elevator inspections.
“The department is conducting far more comprehensive elevator inspections than ever before,” said Tony Sclafani, a DOB spokesman.
“It is important to keep in mind that elevator accidents are very rare in New York City when you consider the 30 million trips New Yorkers take each day.”
The Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report issued in February, however, attributes declines in inspections to “reduced field hours resulting from staff vacancies and a more extensive training program.”
After performance peaked in fiscal year 2009, with 244,585 total construction inspections performed, the number fell by nearly 30 percent to 171,547 in fiscal year 2011, according to the PMMR.
During that same period, staff numbers declined from 1,227 to 1,094, while overtime paid declined by more than 44 percent, from roughly $5.6 million to $3.1 million.
“The ability of the department to inspect and to provide a high number of inspections is dependent almost exclusively on the number of resources that they have,” said Lou Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association of New York City.
“As the city has faced overall financial difficulties in the last couple of years, I’m sure that the buildings department has suffered as well as the other agencies.”
It’s not the first time Stringer has attacked the DOB. In January 2010, he released “Falling Apart at the Seams,” a report that said 15,000 open violations in Manhattan buildings were so serious that the posed a threat to that severely affected “life, health, safety, property, public interest or persons” warranting corrective action by the city’s own standards.
He first suggested splitting up the DOB in a report submitted to the New York City Charter Revision Commission in 2010. Sclafani, the DOB spokesman, declined to comment on Stringer’s assertion that the agency should be broken up.
The report was issued days after an elevator service company fired five mechanics who were on duty when an advertising executive was crushed to death by her office elevator at 285 Madison Ave. in December.
A city investigation found that the malfunction was due to the override of an elevator safety system by one of the mechanics.
*this article appeared in the March 21, 2012 print edition of real estate weekly