2021 is the midway point of the second cycle of New York City’s mandated retaining wall inspections, Local Law 37 of 2008. This year, owners and managers of properties in Staten Island must have their retaining walls inspected and a report filed by December 31, 2021, or risk fines and civil penalties.
Local Law 37/08 has received relatively little attention since it went into effect in 2014 and has gone under the radar of many property owners and boards; however, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) has been stepping up enforcement, issuing violations to properties for failure to file. Here’s an overview of the law:
What is Local Law 37 of 2018?
Per Local Law 37 of 2008 and Rule 103-09, which went into effect January 1, 2014, properties with retaining walls that are 10 feet or taller and face a public right-of-way, must be inspected by an engineer who is a Qualified Retaining Wall Inspector (QRWI). The filing deadline for the inspection report is every five years and is based on borough. Filing windows for the second cycle, which began on 2019, are as follows:
|Borough||2nd Cycle Filing Window|
|The Bronx||January 1, 2019 - December 31, 2019|
|Manhattan||January 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020|
|Staten Island||January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021|
|Queens||January 1, 2022 - December 31, 2022|
|Brooklyn||January 1, 2023 - December 31, 2023|
Similar to the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), retaining wall inspection reports, mandated by Local Law 37/08, must certify if the condition of the wall is either Safe, Safe with minor repair and maintenance, Safe with repairs and/or engineer monitoring, or Unsafe. Any deficiencies must be identified, and a plan for repairs is required if the wall is filed as Safe with repairs and/or engineering monitoring, or Unsafe.
Failure to file may result in civil penalties of $1,000 per year, plus $250 per month penalty until the property owner is in compliance. Failure to repair an unsafe condition carries a $1,000 per month fine until corrected.
Determining Ownership of a Retaining Wall
Ownership of retaining walls is often a question. In such cases, owners should engage a NYS Licensed Surveyor for a property line survey to definitively establish the ownership of the wall. No matter if your property is located on the high or low side of the retaining wall, if the wall is located on the neighboring property, then maintenance of the wall is the neighbor’s responsibility. If the wall is located such that part of the wall is on each property, maintenance and any associated costs are shared. The QRWI is not able to determine ownership during the inspection; only a Surveyor can perform this task.
Withdrawing a Wall
If you believe you have received a Notice of Violation in error, the DOB has a process for withdrawing a wall from the Local Law 37/08 inspection program. Valid reasons to have a wall withdrawn include:
- Less than 10 feet tall
- Owned by the adjacent property owner
- Does not front a public right-of-way
A signed and sealed Survey showing all relevant elevations/heights, property lines, and site features must be included in your request to the DOB.
If a retaining wall on your property requires inspection, or to determine if a retaining wall is subject to the DOB's inspection rule, please contact RAND for a consultation at 212-675-8844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the repair and maintenance of retaining walls, please see our Ask the Engineer on the topic.
Jimmy Vignola, PE is RAND's Director of Technical Design and Structural Team leader.