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Playing It “Safe”: A Guide to NYC’s Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP)

Hands-on Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) inspection by industrial rope access in New York City. Formerly known as Local Law 11/98, the Facade Inspection Safety Program requires a hands-on inspection of at least one of the facades taller than six stories.

Most New York City property owners and managers know that NYC’s Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) requires a cyclical inspection of a building’s exterior facades. The myriad details of the program, however, are often a source of confusion, especially the rules regarding filing status and follow-up repairs. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions on the topic:

Why FISP?

In 1979, Barnard student Grace Gold was fatally injured by a piece of masonry that fell from the seventh floor of a Manhattan building. Her tragic death led to the passage of Local Law 10/80, an amendment of New York City’s administrative code, requiring cyclical inspections of facades taller than six stories. Over the years, further amendments were made to the code, most notably with the passage of Local Law 11/98, and institution of the Facade Inspection Safety Program in 2013.

What does a FISP inspection entail?

The inspection covers the envelope and appurtenances of all building facades taller than six stories, including parapets, balconies, railings, and fire escapes. At least one full-height hands-on inspection must be conducted along a street-facing facade, at a section that is representative of the building’s other exterior walls in construction and condition. The remainder of the building’s facade is typically inspected using high-powered binoculars. The inspector documents the condition of the walls with notes, photographs, and site plans. 

Who files the FISP reports?

Facade inspections must be conducted, witnessed, or supervised by what the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) calls a “Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector” (QEWI), who must be either a New York State Registered Architect (RA) or New York State licensed Professional Engineer (PE).

The DOB requires at least
one full-height hands-on
inspection along a street-
facing facade
.

As of 2016, the DOB is no longer accepting “hard copies” of FISP reports. All FISP reports must be electronically submitted through the DOB NOW online portal.

To access DOB NOW, property owners and managers must register with the DOB’s eFiling system. FISP Reports cannot be filed if the building owner has not registered, but once the owner is registered, the actual filing process can be completed by a registered building manager.

What are the filing classifications?

Buildings are filed as Safe, Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP), or Unsafe. A Safe building needs no further action. A SWARMP building must be repaired in the time frame established by the QEWI in the report. Unsafe buildings must be repaired within 30 days, although owners can request extensions from the DOB as long as adequate safety measures are in place to protect the public.

What are examples of unsafe exterior conditions?

Any item that the QEWI believes could possibly fall from a building within the next year must be deemed an Unsafe condition. Examples include loose bricks, mortar, or concrete; shifted parapet walls or stonework; and loose items (such as flower pots) on fire escapes or windowsills.

What happens when a building is filed as Unsafe?

Any Unsafe conditions observed by a QEWI must be immediately reported to the DOB via a Notification of Unsafe Conditions—known as a FISP3 form. Submission of a FISP3 triggers a violation, and a DOB representative often inspects the Unsafe conditions within 24 hours of notification.

As soon as an Unsafe condition is identified, the owner must install a sidewalk shed to protect the public where the condition occurs along a street facade and/or adequately block access along facades not facing a street.

Once a building has filed an Unsafe Report, the owner or manager must either complete the required repairs within 30 days, or where 30 days is not a sufficient amount of time to complete the work (as is most often the case), submit to the DOB an extension request.

Outstanding SWARMP items
cannot be carried over
from one inspection cycle
to the next

The DOB typically grants a 90-day extension, as long as adequate safety measures are in place and an appropriate repair timetable is established. Additional extensions can then be requested and granted every 90 days as needed, until the work is completed. As long as extensions are approved and maintained during the repair program, the DOB will not assess any fines.

Included in each time extension request is a letter from the QEWI stating the scope of work, timetable for repairs, and confirmation that the proper safety measures (e.g., sidewalk shed) are in place.

After a contractor has been hired and the Unsafe conditions have been corrected, the engineer/architect administering the repair program (typically the QEWI that filed the Initial Unsafe Report) will file an Amended Report with the DOB upgrading the building status to SWAMRP or Safe. It should be noted that the DOB strongly advises owners with Unsafe buildings to seek to achieve a Safe status. Amended Reports that seek to raise a building’s status from Unsafe to SWARMP are closely scrutinized by the DOB, and can be rejected if the DOB in their sole discretion determine that conditions identified as SWARMP in the Amended Report are more accurately described as Unsafe.

How long after Unsafe conditions are repaired must the building be re-inspected?

The QEWI must inspect the repair of Unsafe conditions within two weeks after work is complete. This timeframe is usually not an issue when the QEWI is actively observing the repair program in progress.

What are examples of SWARMP conditions?

SWARMP conditions are conditions deemed by the QEWI to be Safe at the time of inspection, but at risk of developing into Unsafe conditions within five years. Typical examples include slightly cracked or spalled masonry, deteriorated mortar joints, deflected window lintels, and damaged coatings.

When is the deadline for repairing SWARMP conditions?

The QEWI must list a specific repair deadline (minimum one year after filing) for each individual SWARMP item.

If any SWARMP item is not corrected by the established deadline, the DOB can at its discretion downgrade the building’s status to Unsafe and issue fines.

Outstanding SWARMP items cannot be carried over from one inspection cycle to the next. If any SWARMP item is not repaired by the time the next cycle’s report is filed, the building is automatically downgraded to Unsafe, regardless of the actual degree of physical danger posed by the cited condition.

When is the deadline for filing facade inspection reports?

Buildings have overlapping two-year windows for filing, and are grouped according to the last digit of their block number:

  • Block numbers ending in 4, 5, 6, or 9:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2015 and February 21, 2017.
  • Block numbers ending in 0, 7, or 8:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2016 and February 21, 2018.
  • Block numbers ending in 1, 2, or 3:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2017 and February 21, 2019.

 

For the 9th Cycle of inspections:

  • Block numbers ending in 4, 5, 6, or 9:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2020 and February 21, 2022.
  • Block numbers ending in 0, 7, or 8:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2021 and February 21, 2023.
  • Block numbers ending in 1, 2, or 3:
    Reports must be filed between February 21, 2022 and February 21, 2024.
fisp_schedule.jpg

How do properties with more than one building file?

For properties with two or more buildings taller than six stories occupying block numbers with different filing windows, the owner can file either of two ways:

  • The buildings can be filed separately based on the last digit of their block numbers.
  • The group of buildings can be filed together under the filing window for any one of the buildings. The DOB must be notified of this intent at least 180 days before the end of the filing window.

Note: Buildings that filed together for a previous cycle must continue to file under the same window in subsequent cycles. 

When do new buildings have to be filed?

A newly constructed building is governed by FISP reporting requirements once five years have passed since the initial Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) was issued. An owner must comply with the first filing deadline for that property that occurs after the five-year TCO milestone has been reached (or the Final CO in the rare cases where a TCO was never issued).

For example, if a building with a block number ending in 7 was issued its initial TCO on May 15, 2017, the Owner would be required to file the first facade inspection report no later than the February 21, 2023 9th Cycle deadline for that property.

Building owners must
install a sidewalk shed
on all facades
with unsafe conditions.

If, however, that same building received its initial TCO on May 15, 2018, the owner would not have to file for the 9th Cycle because the filing deadline (February 21, 2023) will pass before the initial TCO is five years old (May 15, 2023). In this case, the owner will not have to file until the 10th Cycle deadline, projected to be February 21, 2028.

How long after the FISP inspection does the report have to be filed?

Facade inspection reports must be filed no later than 60 days after the QEWI conducts the final inspection, and no later than one year after the hands-on inspection. Building owners need to promptly approve, sign, and return reports to the QEWI for timely filing with the DOB to avoid the need for re-inspection.

What if a building owner misses the filing deadline for a cycle? 

If an inspection report has not been filed for a previous cycle, the DOB will issue a “No Report Filed” violation, typically along with a retroactive base penalty of $250 per month past the deadline, plus a $1,000 per year for the late filing. For the 9th Cycle, the late filing penalty will be raised to $2,000 per year. Penalties continue to amass until a report is filed. 

If the Certificate of Occupancy lists a building height as six stories plus cellar, does that mean a FISP inspection is not required? 

Not necessarily. The height description on a building’s Certificate of Occupancy is not what determines whether an inspection is needed; the actual physical building height is what counts. Many buildings, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn, have a Certificate of Occupancy that incorrectly lists the building’s height as six stories plus a cellar even though the building is actually six stories plus a basement or even six stories plus a full above-ground lobby level.

The distinction between cellar and basement is important. A cellar does not count as a story because more than half of its wall height is below ground level. A basement, on the other hand, does count as a story because more than half of its wall height is above ground. So a building with six stories plus a basement is considered 6½ stories high, which means a facade inspection report needs to be filed, regardless of what the Certificate of Occupancy says.

Can the DOB reject a report because window-mounted air conditioners are not properly installed? Are there any guide-lines on what constitutes a properly secured unit?

The DOB can and does consider improperly secured window air conditioner units an Unsafe condition. This judgment is independent of whether the QEWI deemed any window air conditioner units a potential hazard.

Items considered Unsafe usually involve loose supports such as blocks or bricks wedged between the air conditioner unit and the windowsill, or an air conditioner unit that appears unstable. Although the DOB does not specify regulations or design criteria for mounting window air conditioners, it does provide a list of Air Conditioner Installation Tips.

It is difficult for the QEWI performing the facade inspection to determine the safety of window-mounted air conditioners throughout the building, short of checking every single unit from inside the apartments.

Owners who fail to correct an
Unsafe condition face a 
$1,000 penalty per month
until the condition is corrected. 

Complete verification, however, is unfeasible in large buildings with numerous units. Also, the locations of installed units can regularly change. For this reason, the DOB now essentially regards window-mounted air conditioner units as temporary installations somewhat separate from the FISP scope and verifies their status during the DOB review triggered by filing the inspection report.

It is recommended that building owners and managers establish installation standards and procedures and ensure all residents comply. For example, residents should be required to have window-mounted air conditioners installed with secure support brackets by a qualified person (such as a contractor or properly trained superintendent, technician, etc.), and to provide written verification from the installer to insure the safety of the unit. When signing the FISP report, the owner will confirm that all air conditioner installations meet or exceed the building standard.

Must balcony railings and enclosures also be inspected?

Railings and their connections anywhere on a building — whether at balconies, terraces, roofs, etc.— are required to be evaluated for structural soundness as a part of the Facade Inspection Safety Program.

Balcony and greenhouse enclosures must also be inspected for structural stability and cited to be stable and secure to achieve a Safe or SWARMP filing status.

What’s the difference between a Subsequent Report and an Amended Report?

A Subsequent Report changes the status of a previously filed Safe or SWARMP Report. An Amended Report changes the status of a previously filed Unsafe Report to SWARMP or Safe. 

When can the sidewalk shed be removed?

A sidewalk shed installed along a facade with Unsafe conditions must stay in place until either of two things happen:

  • The DOB accepts the Amended FISP Report, upgrading the building status from Unsafe to either Safe or SWARMP.
  • A DOB inspector visits the property and agrees no Unsafe conditions remain and authorizes complete or partial removal of the shed before filing and acceptance of the Amended Report.

 Removing the sidewalk shed before either of one of these conditions is met can result in an $10,000 fine. If the shed has already been taken down and a DOB inspector subsequently determines there are still Unsafe conditions at the building, the shed will have to be re-installed. Since it costs significantly more to reinstall a shed than pay the monthly shed rental, it is prudent to keep the shed in place until the DOB accepts the Amended Report.

What are the filing fees?

The DOB charges a $265 fee for the initial filing of FISP Reports and $100 for Amended or Subsequent Reports. There is also a fee of $135 for filing for a 90-day extension to repair Unsafe items.

What’s the penalty for not filing, or filing a late report?

Owners who fail to file a FISP report by the deadline face a penalty of $250 per month, and an additional $1,000 annual penalty. Owners who fail to either correct an Unsafe condition or request a time extension also face a $1,000 per month penalty until the condition is corrected and an acceptable Amended Report has been filed.

For the 9th Cycle, failure to file penalties will be in increasing to $500 per month, and $2,000 per year. Failure to correct an Unsafe condition will result in a $1,000 per month base penalty, along with an additional dollar amount per linear foot of sidewalk shed per month after year two. 

Also new for the 9th Cycle, failure to correct a SWARMP condition that is filed as Unsafe in the subsequent cycle will incur a $2,000 penalty. 

What’s new for FISP 9th Cycle?

The DOB has been considering revised requirements for the 9th Cycle, involving probe investigations and additional hands-on inspections. In the event revised requirements are issued, owners of buildings who have already filed their 9th Cycle reports may need to meet the revised requirements and file an affidavit to supplement their 9th Cycle Report.  

Additional Information (DOB)

  • RAND Engineering & Architecture, DPC
  • 159 West 25th Street
  • New York, NY 10001
  • P: 212-675-8844
RAND Engineering & Architecture, DPC
159 West 25th Street | New York, NY 10001
P: 212-675-8844 |