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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 Local Law 11/98, now called the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), requires an inspection of a building's facades. The myriad details of the program, however, are often a source of confusion, especially those regarding filing status and follow-up repairs. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions on the topic:

Are Local Law 11/98 and the Facade Inspection Safety Program the same thing?

Essentially yes. New York City’s first cycle of facade inspections began in 1980 with Local Law 10/80, which required owners of buildings taller than six stories to have the street-facing facades inspected at least once every five years and file a written report of the inspection findings with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). Local Law 10/80 was an amendment to a section in New York City’s Administrative Code governing the repair and maintenance of exterior facades.

A building cannot skip
an inspection cycle,
no matter how much time
has passed the deadline
.

Local Law 11 of 1998 further amended the code to mandate the inspection of all building facades (as opposed to just street-facing facades) taller than six stories. Local Law 11/98 also put in place other new requirements, including the performance of at least one street-facing facade scaffold drop as part of each inspection, the identification of the specific cause(s) of the cited deterioration, and the establishment of a definitive repair timetable.

Amendments to the Rules of the City of New York affected the 7th Cycle of inspections, which ran from February 21, 2010 to February 21, 2013.  Among other changes, the DOB officially renamed the inspection process the Facade Inspection Safety Program and established overlapping inspection timeframes with staggered filing deadlines based on the last digit of the building’s block number (described below).

What does a FISP inspection entail?

The inspection covers the fabric and appurtenances of all building facades taller than six stories, including parapets; balconiesrailingsfire escapes; and balcony and greenhouse enclosures. At least one of the facades must be inspected hands-on from a scaffold, and that facade must be representative of the building’s other exterior walls in construction and condition. The other facades are typically inspected using high-powered binoculars. The inspector documents the condition of the walls with notes and photographs; the written inspection report filed with the New York City Department of Buildings must include photographs. 

Who files the FISP reports?

Facade inspections must be conducted, witnessed, or supervised by what the 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) with at least one year of experience. 

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 listed in the report by the Engineer or Architect. An Unsafe building must be repaired within 30 days. (Owners can request extensions from the DOB.)

What are examples of unsafe exterior conditions?

Any item that could fall from a building is an unsafe condition. Examples include loose bricks, mortar, or concrete; cracked glass, terra cotta, or sandstone; bulging masonry; 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 or any Engineer or Architect must immediately be reported to 311, and a Notification of Unsafe Conditions—known as FISP3 form—must be submitted to the DOB. Submission of a FISP3 form triggers a violation, and a DOB representative may inspect the unsafe conditions within 24 hours of notification.

Once a building has filed an Unsafe Report, the owner or manager must take the following steps:

  • Immediately install a sidewalk shed to protect the public on all facades with unsafe conditions (or adequate fencing along facades not facing a street).
  • Submit to the DOB an extension request for repairs if the repair work cannot be completed in 30 days (the DOB’s default timeframe for repairing unsafe conditions). The DOB typically grants a 90-day extension, which can be requested again 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.
  • Submit to the DOB a letter from an engineering/architectural firm stating the scope of work, timetable for repairs, and confirmation that the proper safety measures (e.g., sidewalk shed) are in place.
  • Submit to the DOB a copy of the contract with a contractor hired to perform the necessary repairs.

After the unsafe conditions have been corrected, the engineer/architect administering the repair program will file an Amended Report with the DOB upgrading the building status to SWARMP or Safe.

How long after the repairs must the building be re-inspected?

The engineer/architect must inspect repairs of unsafe conditions within two weeks after the repairs are made. This timeframe is usually not an issue when the engineer or architect is observing the repair program in progress.

What are examples of SWARMP conditions?

SWARMP conditions are conditions deemed by the Engineer/Architect filing the FISP report to be Safe at the time of inspection, but at risk of developing into Unsafe conditions before the beginning of the next FISP cycle. Examples include cracked or spalled masonry, deteriorated mortar joints, deflected window lintels, and damaged coatings. 

When must SWARMP conditions be repaired by?

The QEWI must list a specific deadline (minimum one year after filing) by which each individual SWARMP item must be corrected to prevent it from deteriorating into an Unsafe condition. If any SWARMP item is not corrected by the established deadline, the Department of Buildings can at its discretion downgrade the building’s status to Unsafe.

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

When is the deadline for conducting the facade inspections?

In the first six inspection cycles, from 1980 to 2007, the DOB required all buildings to file their facade inspection reports in the same two-year window. To reduce the inspection, filing, and processing load, the DOB began staggering the filing deadlines starting with the last (7th cycle) in 2010.

For the 8th Cycle of inspections, buildings will have overlapping two-year windows for filing. Buildings 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 different block numbers, 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 the 7th Cycle FISP must continue to file under the same window in subsequent inspection cycles.

When do new buildings have to file?

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, 2012, the Owner would be required to file the first facade inspection report no later than the 8th Cycle deadline for that property of February 21, 2018. (See filing window chart above.)

If, however, that same building received its initial TCO on May 15, 2013, the owner would not have to file for the 8th Cycle because the filing deadline (February 21, 2018) will pass before the initial TCO is five years old (May 15, 2018). In this case, the owner will not have to file until the 9th Cycle deadline, projected to be February 21, 2023.

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 engineer or architect 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 engineer/architect for timely filing with the DOB to avoid the need for re-inspection.

If a building missed the 7th Cycle inspection, can it wait until the 8th Cycle to do a combined inspection?

A building cannot skip an inspection cycle, no matter how much time has passed since the deadline. If an inspection report has not been filed for a previous cycle, the DOB will issue a "No Report Filed" violation. Once the report has been filed, the DOB may then retroactively issue a base penalty of up to $1,000 for filing late, plus up to $250 per month past the deadline.

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 guidelines on what constitutes a properly secured unit?

The Buildings Department can and does declare window air conditioner units that its inspectors deem improperly secured an unsafe condition. This judgment is independent of whether the Engineer or Architect performing the inspection determines that certain window air conditioner units pose a potential hazard.

Unsafe items are any 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 architect/engineer performing the facade inspection to determine the safety of window-mounted air conditioners, short of checking every single unit from inside the apartments. Complete verification, however, is unfeasible in large buildings with numerous units. Also, the locations of installed units can change regularly. For this reason, the DOB now essentially regards window-mounted air conditioners as temporary installations somewhat separate from the FISP scope and verifies their status during the DOB inspection 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, superintendent, technician, etc.), and to provide written verification from the installer to insure the safety of the unit. When signing the inspection report, the owner will confirm that all air conditioner installations meet or exceed the building standard.

Must balcony railings also be inspected?

In 2013 the Buildings Department amended the Rules of the City of New York to require railings and their connections anywhere on a building— balconies, terraces, roofs, etc.—on all buildings taller than six stories to be evaluated for structural soundness as a part of the Facade Inspection Safety Program.

According to the amended rule, if the railings and connections were not specifically checked during the 7th Cycle FISP inspection, the owner must have them evaluated by a qualified architect or engineer (either the same individual who filed the 7th Cycle Report or another qualified architect or engineer). The architect/engineer must file an affidavit to supplement the 7th Cycle Report. It is left to the architect/engineer to decide whether all railings should be inspected or just a representative sample.

If the railings and connections are deemed unsafe, the architect/engineer is required to submit an Unsafe Notification to the DOB, along with a letter from the owner stating the balconies, terraces, or any areas enclosed by unsafe railings have been vacated and made safe, and access blocked. A Subsequent FISP Report must then be filed with the DOB within two weeks to document the Unsafe status and the planned repair program.

For the 7th Cycle, all railing inspections must be completed and the affidavit filed with the DOB by February 1, 2015 (The 8th Cycle begins on February 21, 2015.) Starting with the 8th Cycle, the railings evaluation will be incorporated into the FISP Report, with no need for a separate affidavit.

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

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

  1. The DOB accepts the Amended FISP Report, upgrading the building status from “Unsafe” to either “Safe” or “Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program.”
  2. 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 $800 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 reinstalled. Since it costs significantly more to reinstall a shed than pay the monthly shed rental, it is much more cost effective to keep the shed up until the DOB officially accepts the Amended Report.

What are the filing fees?

The DOB charges a $265 fee for the initial filing of Local Law 11/98 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 face a penalty of $250 per month past the deadline, with an additional penalty of $1,000 for each subsequent year past the deadline. In addition, owners who fail to correct any Unsafe condition face a $1,000 per month penalty until the condition has been corrected and an acceptable Amended Report has been filed. 

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 |