The NYC DOB’s Façade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP) Cycle 9
launched on February 21, 2020 with significantly strengthened requirements designed to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.
The changes in FISP Cycle 9 include more up-close, hands-on inspections, enhanced requirements for design professionals, steeper penalties for failing to make repairs, and a mandate to display official façade status certificates in building lobbies. The law updates and expands on Local Law 11/98 – which expanded on Local Law 10 - requiring owners of buildings over six stories tall to hire licensed professionals to perform façade inspections every five years and submit reports to the DOB for review.
“Building owners are on notice – maintain the safety of your facades, or you will face stiff fines and rigorous enforcement…,” said DOB Commissioner Melanie LaRocca in a DOB release dated January 22.
She continued, “We are strengthening the tools we already have to ensure that New Yorkers are kept safe from deteriorating facades. New rule changes and more proactive field inspections will better equip us to hold negligent building owners accountable, and protect the public.”
The Buildings Department oversees over one million buildings and construction sites across the five boroughs, of which 14,500 fall under the FISP guidelines according to DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky.
The reason for adopting stricter rules is noted by the DOB, “Recent inspections have revealed significant deficiencies in façade compliance reporting by registered design professionals: therefore, the Department is enhancing the qualified exterior wall inspector qualifications, inspection requirements and civil penalties against owners to ensure public safety.”
Faster repairs and display of a conditions certificate required
Highlights of the new rules include:
Enhanced requirements for the Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) – A registered design professional now must have at least seven years of relevant experience with facades over six stories high, whereas formerly only one year was required. Inspections may be conducted by individuals other than the QEWI, but full and final responsibility of the filed FISP report lies solely with the QEWI. Michael Petermann, a forensic architect and administrator, told SKYlines that “the DOB now provides a list of QEWIs approved to perform and file FISP reports.” He advised all to “Make sure the person you are dealing with is on the list.”
Faster repair of unsafe conditions – This designation requires repair within one year of the inspection date. The QEWI must recommend the type and location of public protection and conditions must be corrected within 90 days of report submission.
(Definitions and distinctions between correction vs. repair are detailed in the DOB’s February 2020 FAQs).
Increased close-up physical examinations – Under the new rule, close-up physical examinations must be performed at intervals no greater than 60’ from grade to the top of an exterior wall fronting each public right-of-way including setbacks.
This change necessitates significant adjustments to the process and disallows several previously utilized inspection methods. The DOB explicitly states that “the use of drones, high-resolution photography, non-destructive testing, or other similar methods does not eliminate the requirement for close-up inspections.”
Petermann told SKYlines, “this will result in significant cost increases to building owners…[and] put a larger demand on a limited supply of scaffolds and boom trucks.”
Increased Cavity Wall Probes – Probes now must be performed on all cavity wall construction and, at a minimum, during every subsequent odd-numbered cycle. Cavity wall construction is defined as “an exterior wall system consisting of an exterior veneer with a backup wall whereby the exterior veneer relies on a grid of metal ties to the backup wall for lateral stability. The two layers of wall are separated by an air cavity which may or may not be filled with insulation.”
Steeper Civil penalties – Fines and penalties are significantly increased for failure to file an acceptable report or correct an unsafe condition.
The civil penalty for failure to file is increased from $1000 to $5,000 per year “immediately after the end of the applicable filing window.”
Late filing makes an owner liable for a civil penalty of $1,000, quadrupled from the former $250 fine. Failure to correct an unsafe condition makes an owner liable for $1000 per month pro-rated daily.
Display of a Conditions Certificate – Buildings owners are required to post a DOB-produced certificate of the most recent condition of the FISP report in the lobby or vestibule of the building.
Real Estate Weekly editor Linda O’Flanagan noted that this will clearly have an effect “much like the gradings displayed in restaurants” (“Experts warn owners not to dawdle as city lays down local laws,” Real Estate Weekly, February 12, 2020).
Thanks to Tina Tapenikis and Russell Newbold of Surface Design Group for providing information and summaries that contributed to the above list.
DOB NOTES general reminders for Façade Reports:
• Buildings with ongoing construction may not be designated as Safe.
• Provide color photos and a location diagram.
• Include a statement on water-tightness.
• Submit a certification that repairs identified in the prior cycle have been finished.
• Cite the cause and description of the deterioration.
• Include the QEWI’s projection of the month and year when the defects will become hazardous and cause the façade to be classified as Unsafe.
• Cite which repairs will need a Department-issued work permit.
• Provide details about appurtenances.
• Acceptable forms of public protective measures:
• Sidewalk shed
• Structural Netting
All require Department of Building permits.
(See the DOB Facades page: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/buildings/safety/facades.page)
the commissioner’s keynote speech at the NY Build Expo
on March 3, at the Javits Center in NYC.