Sweeping Updates to NYC Construction and Building Codes

City Council passes bill with over 600 major revisions that will improve the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers and ensure that NYC regulations are exemplary worldwide


The bill marks the first such overhaul of regulations enacted since 2014


PHOTO: SPRING SCAFFOLDING

On October 7 the New York City Buildings Department announced that the City Council took a monumental step in improving the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers when it passed legislation containing over 600 major updates and thousands of smaller changes to the City’s Construction Codes. A DOB issued release noted that the bill marks the first such overhaul of regulations enacted since 2014 and that the new Codes apply the highest standards recognized globally for the design, construction and maintenance of buildings.


The sweeping updates are the culmination of years of work conducted by numerous technical, advisory and managing committees divided and subdivided according to their area of specialty. Each committee was comprised of approximately 20 individuals, all volunteers and all experts in their field including “engineers, architects, attorneys, planners, tradespeople, representatives of the construction industry, labor, real estate industry, utility companies, as well as DOB and interagency stakeholders. “


Council member Robert Cornegy
PHOTO: NYC.GOV

Council member Robert Cornegy, one of over 20 representatives of the public sector and industry associations quoted in the release in praise of the legislation, applauded the diligence of committee members who “volunteered over 40,000 hours of service towards the revision of the Code.”


The result is a detailed, comprehensive, thorough piece of legislation that will help all who construct, maintain and restore the built environment to maximize safety, efficiency and sustainability and incorporate the latest innovations in technology.


Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca
PHOTO: NYC.GOV

Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca thanked her colleagues at the DOB and the hundreds of government and industry experts. She said, “These updated Codes provide a solid foundation on which the future of our city will be built…[they] will make our built environment safer for everyone living, working and visiting in our great city.” She added her hopes that the Codes, which are among the strongest building regulations existing anywhere across the globe, will prove exemplary and serve as “a model for other cities, looking to build their own more resilient and sustainable future.”


Dorothy Mazzarella, vice president of government relations, International Code Council, congratulated Commissioner La Rocca and the Code Development Team and said that “The International Code Council (ICC) is honored by our long-standing partnership with the City of New York, serving as a national and international leader on its continuous code updates as well as their active participation in the ICC code development process.”


The code revisions update the entire set of NYC administrative, plumbing, building, mechanical and fuel gas codes.


Highlights to the Codes include:


Protecting Tenants, Streamlining Building Occupancy and Promoting Increased Affordable Housing


• Requires new special inspection of buildings undergoing construction to ensure the protection of tenants. NB: An article in amNY (The City Council passed new NYC construction codes. Here’s what that means for New Yorkers. By Haeven Gibbons, October 8), quoted DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky to say of this provision, “This adds another layer of protection with special inspection requirements to have more people there, on the ground, looking at if the tenant protection plan is being followed. This makes sure the tenants are adequately protected and looks at any negative quality of life issues affecting tenants that need to be resolved.”

• Clarifies what construction documentation is required to receive a new Certificate of Occupancy.

• Reduces the required 8ft basement clearance height for two-family homes to 7ft to increase affordable housing opportunities.


Construction Safety Enhancements


• Permits the use of netting, low barriers, and chain link fencing in lieu of requiring only solid fencing that creates blind tunnels for pedestrians. NB: The amNY article cited above quoted Rudansky to say that the change should enhance the pedestrian experience as there will be “less of that tunnel effect without reducing safety issues.”

• Creates a new license type for advanced crane technology, such as articulating boom cranes and roto-telehandlers, to ensure these cranes are operated in a safe manner.

• Improves the safety and consistency of the underpinning of existing buildings.


Building System Construction and Inspection Enhancements


• Requires smoke tests for special gas vents to ensure the safety of building occupants.

• Requires all pipes, tubings, and fittings in the mechanical system to comply with the applicable reference safety standard.

• Codifies maintenance, condition assessment, and reporting requirements for parking structures. NB: Rudansky, addressing this requirement in amNY noted that the mandate was illustrative of ways in which inspections will improve safety. He told amNY, “For these larger buildings in the city we want to make sure that even if nobody’s calling 311 to complain about it, and even if there’s no active construction in the building where DOB would be called to inspect, that we have these mandatory, periodic inspections of various elements of the building to make sure they continue to be safe.”


Sustainability and Resiliency Enhancements


• Increases the material choices available to builders by expanding the use of sustainable building materials such as cross-laminated timber and structural composite lumber. NB: The amNY article (see above) noted that being permitted to use these materials throughout the city, including in the fire districts, is significant as prior codes did not allow for timber construction in large areas of the city. Cross-laminated timber is renewable and has a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional steel and concrete.


Sustainability and resiliency enhancements also include expanding the applicability of flood zone requirements; mandating more visual inspections of dry floodproofing systems; and permitting and supporting the use of alternative energy production processes.


Updates were also made to emergency response systems; fire protection; vertical transportation and accessibility including some enhancements specifically geared to accommodating persons with disabilities; elevator and boiler safety.


The DOB will conduct training and outreach on the new requirements some of which went into effect on January 1, 2022.