What is Local Law 11 (FISP) in NYC?
The NYC Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), formerly known as Local Law 11, requires NYC buildings taller than six stories to have their facades inspected and repaired every five years.
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In this article, we discuss the history of FISP and explain how Local Law 11 affects you as a buyer of New York City real estate.
What is the Facade Inspection Safety Program?
FISP, formerly known as Local Law 11, requires that owners of buildings taller than six stories have exterior walls and appurtenances inspected every five years. Upon completion of the inspection, a building is required to file a technical report with the department of buildings classifying façade elements as either safe, safe with a repair and maintenance program, or unsafe. Unsafe façade elements must be addressed immediately and repaired with 30 days.
FISP is designed to ensure pedestrian safety by prevent bricks, concrete and other façade elements from falling on pedestrians. There are over 12,000 buildings in NYC which are subject to the inspection protocol of FISP. The current FISP inspection cycle (Cycle 8) runs from February 21, 2015 through February 21, 2019.
The detailed FISP inspection, reporting and action requirements are contained in RCNY (Rules of the City of New York) 103–04: Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances of Buildings.
What is Local Law 11?
Local Law 11 of 1998, also known as the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), mandates the periodic inspection of the exterior walls and appurtenances (such as balconies) of buildings greater than six stories in height in New York City. Local Law 11 was an update to Local Law 10, which was the original measure passed by the Mayor’s office to address pedestrian safety.
An inspection typically occurs once every five years, and it must be conducted by a New York State Registered Architect (RA) or NYS Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) with at least one year of relevant experience. The inspector is called a QEWI, or a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector. If any unsafe conditions are discovered, the architect or engineer must immediately notify in writing the building owner and the Department of Buildings.
Once the inspection is complete, the architect or engineer is required to file a report of critical examination with the City’s Department of Buildings on the condition of the building’s facade. In the report, the architect or engineer must document the condition of the exterior walls and appurtenances as either safe, unsafe or safe with a repair and maintenance program. Buildings are required to report all unsafe conditions immediately and repair them within 30 days.
When do FISP / Local Law 11 inspections occur?
Local Law 11 inspection deadlines are divided into sub-cycles A,B, and C which are determined by the last digit of a building’s block number. You can look-up a building’s block here.
While buildings must be inspected every five years, building owners have two years to file according to the sub-cycle they are in. The most recent inspection cycle (Cycle 8) began on February 21, 2015 and runs through February 21, 2020. The schedules for sub-cycles A, B and C can be viewed here
What is Local Law 10?
Local Law 10, passed by Mayor Ed Koch in 1980 as an amendment to the city’s Building Code, was the first city ordinance designed to address and prevent the safety risks posed by the deterioration of building facades in the city. The ordinance was passed after Grace Gold, a Barnard College freshman, was killed by a falling piece of terra cotta masonry on the Upper West Side (115th and Broadway).
Local Law 10 was subsequently replaced and broadened by Local Law 11 in 1998 and FISP in recent years to further enhance safety and the overall effectiveness of the façade repair program.
What is the difference between Local Law 11 and Local Law 10?
Local Law 11 was passed by Mayor Giuliani in 1998 as an update and expansion to Local Law 10. Local law 11 set much stricter requirements as to what needed to be inspected and the rigorousness of the inspections themselves.
A number of public safety events led to the passage of Local Law 11. In 1997, there was a partial building collapse on Madison Avenue. The collapse took down part of the front of the building, which led the city to believe that it was not sufficient just to inspect the street facing facades.
Whereas previously only the front façade and side walls up to 25 feet from the street required an inspection, Local Law 11 mandated the inspection of all four sides of a building. The only exception was for walls which are 12” or less from a neighboring building. In addition, Local Law 11 also mandated a physical inspection from scaffolding as opposed to visual ‘binocular’ inspection from afar which were permissible under Local Law 10.
Local Law 11 also amended the report classifications from simply “pass” or “fail” to “safe,” “unsafe,” or “safe with a repair and maintenance program.” This was designed to ensure that buildings which required a repair and maintenance program (and which may not be safe by the time of the next inspection) would be addressed in a timely manner.
How does FISP / Local Law 11 affect me as a NYC home buyer?
As a NYC home buyer, you should have your buyer’s agent inquire as to the status of the building’s FISP compliance. FISP inspections can be very expensive and time consuming. In addition, inspections may bring to light other repair work which the building may need to complete.
NYC presents buildings with a unique combination of environmental threats including winter freeze/thaw cycles, air pollution and salt which means that facade decay of your building is a reality of owning an apartment in NYC. If the condo, condop or co-op you are buying into does not have sufficient reserves to pay for repairs, they may need to seek a loan, refinance or levy an assessment on unit owners.
Determining the status of your building’s Local Law 11 compliance isn’t the only reason to consider working with a buyer’s agent in NYC. By hiring a buyer’s broker and requesting a NYC buyer agent commission rebate, you can actually reduce your buyerclosing costs and save thousands on your purchase.
Real estate commission rebates in NYC are completely legal and generally considered to be tax-free, meaning that they will reduce the cost of your purchase dollar for dollar. If your purchase happens to be above $1 million, the rebate you receive will most likely pay for the 1% NYC mansion tax.
A seasoned buyer’s agent in NYC can also increase your chances of a successful deal by helping you assemble offer documentation, prepare a polished co-op board package, coaching you for your board interview, allowing you to avoid the risks of dual agency.
What happens during a FISP / Local Law 11 inspection?
Façade inspections, also known as critical examinations, may only be permitted by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI). QEWIs are either NY State Registered Architects (RA) or NYS Licensed Professional Engineers (PE) who have at least one year of relevant experience.
The inspection requires a physical examination to be undertaken from scaffolding or some other form of observation platform.
Facades may be classified in one of three ways:
- Safe: No problems in good condition
- Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP): Safe, but requires repair/maintenance
- Unsafe: Problems/defects threaten public safety
If a facade is determined to be safe, no façade work is required during the cycle. Facades designated as ‘SWARMP’ have the potential to become unsafe, however no immediate action is required. In the technical report, the QEWI must offer a specific month and year by when the condition must be rectified.
A facade may not be classified as “SWARMP” for two consecutive filing cycles. If a facade was classified as SWARMP in the previous cycle and not yet repaired, it must be reported in the next cycle as an unsafe condition.
Unsafe conditions must be reported to the DOB immediately and rectified within 30 days. In the meantime, the building must immediately install public safety measures such as a construction fence or a sidewalk shed. If the repairs take longer than 30 days, the commissioner has the authority to grant 90 day extensions if certain conditions are met.
What is the Local Law 11 Cycle 8 schedule?
Local Law 11 (FISP) Cycle 8 began on February 21, 2015 and runs through February 21, 2020. Cycle 8 is divided into three, two-year sub cycles. Your building’s particular sub-cycle filing deadline depends on the last digit of your block number on file with NYC. The sub-cycles can be viewed here.
What are appurtenances?
Appurtenances are defined as “exterior fixtures, flagpoles, signs, parapets, copings, guard rails, window frames, balcony enclosures, window guards, window air conditioners, flower boxes and any equipment attached to or protruding from the facade” (RCNY §103–04). FISP Cycle 8 also mandates the inspection of balcony railings in the wake of a 2013 fatality involving a woman who fell to her death on the Upper East Side after her balcony railing gave way.