City to double number of facade inspectors after pedestrian’s death

Posted On Tue, December 31, 2019 By

Posted On Tue, December 31, 2019 By In Policy

729 Seventh Avenue; Map data © 2019 Google

The city’s Department of Buildings is enhancing its facade inspection process nearly two weeks after a pedestrian was killed by a falling piece of terra cotta in Midtown. The agency announced on Monday plans to hire 12 new staff for its facade inspection team as well as increase the number of proactive re-inspections and field examinations. “New Yorkers should know that we are out in force holding owners feet to the fire, so they get repair work done as quickly as possible while still protecting the public,” DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said. “With our enhanced inspection protocols and expanded staff, owners who choose to skirt their obligations will face swift consequences.”

Earlier this month, a piece of debris fell from an office building at 729 Seventh Avenue, hitting and killing 60-year-old Erica Tishman. In April, the 17-story building, owned by Himmel + Meringoff Properties, had been fined $1,250 for “failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances,” according to city documents. The owners received a permit to build a protective sidewalk shed, but did not until after the accident, the New York Post reported.

Following the fatal incident, DOB ordered surprise inspections of more than 1,300 building facades that had been previously deemed unsafe. The agency determined 220 lacked proper protection and received Class 1 facade violations, which require immediate fixes.

The agency’s expanded effort, which officially launched on Monday, will issue larger penalties for failure to repair unsafe facades and also regularly return to the site for additional follow up inspections. DOB said inspectors will return to buildings within 60 days of every Class 1 violation.

If owners fail to make the ordered safety changes, the city will hire a contractor to do the work, at the owner’s expense. Further follow-up inspections will take place no more than 90 days after the first Class 1 violation, with additional field examinations taking place every 90 days.

Plus, all buildings in the city greater than six stories will face the possibility of compliance reviews from the DOB. Previously, these reviews only applied to owners previously hit with a violation. A quarter of the buildings will be randomly selected to receive the reviews. Owners must also post the building’s facade status in its lobby, as is done with elevator certificates.

“In the wake of the tragedy that occurred in my district earlier this month, I have been working with the Department of Buildings to ensure that an accident like this never happens again,” Council Member Keith Powers said in a press release. “Today’s announcement is a positive step to ensuring that facades are kept up to code and accidents are avoided. As a city, our principle responsibility is to ensure the public’s safety. We won’t stop until that’s guaranteed.”

The facade inspection unit will add 12 new positions, including 11 inspectors. This doubles the number of facade inspectors at DOB to 22. According to the New York Times, 345 buildings received Class 1 violations this year, up from 252 the year prior.

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