Group of NYC building owners sue city over greenhouse gas emissions cap

May 24, 2022

Looking north towards Billionaires’ Row © 6sqft

A group of New York City building owners is suing the city in an effort to block a 2019 law that requires large buildings to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Local Law 97 mandates owners of buildings more than 25,000 square feet to cap their property’s greenhouse gas emissions or face fines. The lawsuit, filed on Thursday by two co-ops in Queens and a mixed-use building owner in Manhattan, claims the new law is “excessive and disproportionate to the purported offense,” as first reported by Crain’s New York. Under the law, owners have until 2024 to ensure their property’s compliance, with the ultimate goal of reducing the emissions produced by the city’s largest buildings 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

In April 2019, the city passed the Climate Mobilization Act, legislation that imposed new rules on structures larger than 25,000 square feet. In addition to capping their greenhouse gas emissions, these buildings would have to be graded on energy efficiency and display their energy rating in a clear location. At the time, more than 40,000 of the city’s buildings fell under this requirement.

Mid-size and large structures are responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. As 6sqft reported in 2015, the leading offenders of driving climate change include luxury buildings like 838 Fifth Avenue, 101 Warren Street, Trump Park Avenue, and Trump Tower.

The lawsuit, filed against the City of New York and the Department of Buildings, calls Local Law 97 “unconstitutionally retroactive” for penalizing owners who were in compliance prior to the law’s passage.

The plaintiffs argue the law targets buildings in more densely populated areas and buildings that house businesses that “necessarily use a significant amount of raw energy—such as grocery stores, laundromats, and restaurants,” according to a press release. The owners argue less energy-efficient buildings will be able to meet the law’s standards because some may operate for only a couple of hours every day, or because they are not as populated.

“The one-size-fits-all algorithms used to determine greenhouse emissions do not work for many buildings,” Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village co-op, said.

“LL97 requires older cooperatives to undertake costly retrofitting of heating, hot water, and ventilation systems to meet current building standards, regardless of need or ability to pay for such equipment. The burden of compliance sits squarely on the shoulders of working-class families living in some of New York’s older buildings, and there is no way to escape the crippling penalties imposed.”

The law requires owners to retrofit buildings and make energy updates to meet new standards, a process that Friedrich calls “massively expensive.”

“Even if we spend $24 million on the most efficient boilers available today as LL97 requires, the crushing fines would not be eliminated,” Friedrich said. “They would only be reduced from $1,096,200 to $818,000 annually.”

The Department of Buildings is currently putting together additional guidance for property owners regarding the law. “In NYC, our buildings are the largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and we are committed to fully enforcing Local Law 97,” Andrew Rudansky, Buildings Department spokesperson, told Crain’s. “We will review the lawsuit once it has been served.”


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