In New York City, owning a condo or co-op involves many responsibilities, including maintaining your building.
If you're already a proud property owner or board member in New York City (or looking to become one), chances are you've stumbled upon all kinds of local building codes and laws. One that comes up more than most is the Facade Inspection Safety Program – formerly known as Local Law 11.
But what in the world is Local Law 11, and what does it mean for you?
In short, Local Law 11 regulates the frequency of facade inspections in all buildings taller than six stories. Let's get into all you need to know.
What is Local Law 11?
New York City is known for its unmistakable skyline crowded with high-rise buildings - architectural treasures like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and more. Today, more than 14,000 of them are subject to Local Law 11's inspection protocols.
Just like the Empire State Building, Local Law 11 is a born-and-raised New Yorker. Currently known as the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), this regulation mandates that buildings taller than six stories need to have their facade and appurtenances inspected every five years.
As per local codes, a facade refers to a building’s exterior walls and windows. This includes the front of the building as well as any side that runs along a street or sidewalk where people pass regularly. And an appurtenance? Basically, it's any attachment to your building’s facade, including all exterior fixtures, signs, flagpoles, copings, guard rails, parapets, window frames, flower boxes, window A/C units, and balcony enclosures.
Why is Local Law 11 so important?
In 1980, a piece of masonry fell from the facade of an Upper West Side building and killed a college freshman walking by. The incident ignited a discussion on how to minimize the safety risks posed by deteriorating facades, and Local Law 10 was passed.
In 1998, Local Law 11 broadened this city ordinance and included much stricter inspection requirements after a partial building collapse on Madison Avenue made it clear that additional efforts needed to be made to ensure pedestrian safety.
Before Local Law 11, only the front facade and all side walls up to 24 feet from the street needed examination. The new statute mandated that all four sides of a building required physical inspection from scaffolding unless they were 12 inches or less from a neighboring construction. It also amended the categorization in the reports, substituting the vague "pass" or "fail" to the slightly less ambiguous, "safe," "safe with a repair and maintenance program," or "unsafe."
Local Law 11 was designed to guarantee that potential hazards from decaying buildings be addressed and repaired right away. In recent years, FISP emerged to further enhance the overall effectiveness of the facade repair initiative and increase safety for all NYC residents.
How to comply with Local Law 11
First, you’ll need to schedule a complete facade inspection by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWIs) - including all exterior walls and appurtenances (check above if you forgot what these are). Once the inspection is complete, a technical report (FISP report) will need to be filed with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) to document whether facade elements are:
- Safe: Everything is in good condition, and there are no apparent issues with the facade.
- Safe with a repair and maintenance program (SWARMP): The facade requires certain repairs be completed by the next cycle or they will be classified as unsafe. The QEWI will designate a specific deadline for you in the technical report.
- Unsafe: The facade has severe defects or obvious issues that significantly threaten public safety. These require immediate attention, and repairs must be made within 30 days of the inquiry. Additionally, public protection (like a sidewalk shed) must be installed until the issue is properly addressed.
Deadlines and fines for Local Law 11
Buildings have different filing deadlines depending on the last digit of their block number, and it’s important to stay on top of all deadlines to avoid unpleasant and costly surprises.
Last digit: File between:
4, 5, 6, 9 February 21, 2020 - February 21, 2022
0, 7, 8 February 21, 2021 - February 21, 2023
1, 2, 3 February 21, 2022 - February 21, 2024
The DOB charges a $425 filing fee per new FISP report, amended report, or subsequent report (they certainly have no problem taking your money). For those who leave things for the last possible minute, the DOB could charge you a $305 fee for requesting a 90-day extension to repair an unsafe facade.
As if all those fees weren’t enough to worry about, if you’re cited with violations, your building will incur additional fees. The most common are:
- Late filing: $1,000 per month
- Failure to file an initial report: $5,000 per year
- Failure to correct SWARMP conditions: $2,000
And the hits could keep coming if you’re not careful. Failure to correct unsafe conditions can result in even more penalties as described below:
Delay: Base Penalty: Plus
1 year $1,000/month -
2 years $1,000/month $10/linear foot of shed a month
3 years $1,000/month $20/linear foot of shed a month
4 years $1,000/month $30/linear foot of shed a month
5 years $1,000/month $40/linear foot of shed a month
How to avoid Local Law 11 violations
Inspections can be overwhelming (and costly) for your building. To get ready for a FISP examination, follow a few preventative measures to keep your building in top condition before the QEWI knocks on your door, and on your building.
- Provide information regarding your building's age as well as additions and alterations it has endured
- Maintain thorough records of exterior repairs and pertinent permits (include drawings or pictures when possible)
- Ensure all areas of your building are accessible
- Remove debris and items from roofs, terraces, balconies, and fire escapes
- Clear clutter for the inspector's photographic evidence
- Move random items from access and egress areas
- Keep hardware present, operational, and well-attached
- Make sure exterior fixtures are securely anchored and properly installed
- Have the building staff verify window A/C units and ensure they're installed with an exterior bracket or interior angle
- Partner with a good property management company (like Daisy) to handle everything for you
On the day of the examination, have your superintendent guide the inspector through the property. This will allow them to better understand the specialist's point of view, ask questions, and provide useful information regarding the building's condition to all board members to ensure all requirements are met in the future.
Keep in mind, some facade materials are more prone to damage than others. Pay special attention to your facade maintenance if the cladding features:
- Terra cotta
- Joint materials
- Metal parts
How Local Law 11 affects the value of your building
The FISP is designed to protect pedestrians from getting injured or killed by falling pieces of debris. While keeping up with this local law might be a not-so-glamorous part of being a property owner or board member, it can be beneficial for you in the long run as these regulations force you to keep your building in the best possible condition.
Tenants and potential unit buyers are naturally more attracted to a well-maintained building regardless of how old it is. If you want to list your property for rent or sale, having it look its best will only increase your chances of closing the deal fast.
Additionally, regular upkeep is a lot more cost-effective than waiting until your facade is severely damaged and unsafe. This is the strategy we implement for all Daisy-run buildings — you can read more about our approach in our predictive maintenance article. Proactively and strategically maintaining and upgrading your building, as well as small repairs here and there, are much easier on the budget than a whole makeover.
How we can help
FISP and its implications can be a lot to keep track of, but you don't have to deal with it all by yourself. At Daisy, we can help you navigate the murky waters of facade maintenance. We employ predictive maintenance integrated with automated maintenance calendars and compliance trackers. This makes it so much easier for us – and board members – to keep buildings healthy and up to code on things like Local Law 11.
So, if you’re not sure if your building meets all Local Law 11 requirements or any other laws (worried about Local Law 97 or Local Law 152?), or you just think your building could be better taken care of, we’re happy to help! Visit our website to learn more about Daisy.