Bed Bugs, Lead Paint and Graffiti A Federation Among Friends

Bed Bugs, Lead Paint and Graffiti

 The Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums recently held a roundtable seminar for board presidents and board  members at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. The October 24th event  attracted around 50 people and panelists discussed a number of timely issues,  including pest control, new rules for lead paint, graffiti, laundry and storage  systems, chemical water treatment options, and mandated energy audits.  

 Don’t Bug Me

 The hot topic of the day (not including the Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee and bagels) was the recent resurgence of bed bugs in city buildings. Jim  Skinner of A&C Pest Management in East Meadow spoke about the problems associated with  eradicating the nearly microscopic insects, which are making their appearance  nightly in many a co-op and condo building.  

 In the 1930s, said Skinner, one in every three homes had bed bugs, and harsh  chemicals that are not allowed today were used to get rid of them. Today, the  bugs are back with a vengeance, and a variety of treatments -- ranging from  chemical sprays to steam to canines to intense thermal radiation -- are used to  rid an infestation.  

 The newest and most effective treatment, said Skinner, involves thermal  radiation. The affected room is heated to a temperature of 135 degrees, which  effectively kills the bed bugs and their eggs. Trained dogs are brought in  afterwards to certify that the bed bugs are dead, he said.  

 Bed bugs, he explained, are hard to find, although telltale signs are black dots  or droppings in and around the mattress and bed covering and little specks of  blood from their feedings. They regularly move from place to place to stay  hidden and like warm places to nest. They can walk 100 feet in one night, and  females can lay 5 to 7 eggs at a clip.  

 Don’t Get Tagged

 FNYHC Executive Director Greg Carlson updated the audience on new and pending  legislation forthcoming from Washington, D.C., the state Assembly and the New  York City Council.  

 Carlson said changes are pending to the so-called graffiti bill (initially  passed by the City Council in December 2005). The new legislation will amend  the current “Graffiti-free” bill enabling the organization known as Graffiti Free NYC to mandatorily remove  graffiti from buildings. Currently, in order for residential and commercial  buildings to receive free graffiti removal services from Graffiti Free NYC, the  building owner must submit a waiver giving permission and allowing the Graffiti  Free NYC crew permission to clean the building.  

 Based on the council’s amended legislation, instead, a building owner will submit a form to the city  only if they wish to retain the graffiti on the building or opt to remove it  themselves. Once the building is identified for graffiti removal, the city will  notify the building owner. The owner will then have 35 days to opt out of the  removal, request the graffiti remain there, or ask to remove it themselves.  

 “You as the owner have 30 days to respond to that notice,” explained Carlson to those in attendance. “You may either A) say OK, I’ll clean it. B) No, I want you, the city of New York to clean it. Or C) I need  another 15 days to respond. If there’s no response, it automatically turns into a violation.”  

 “You also may say ‘No, I like this grafitti, I commissioned this graffiti, I want it to stay on my  building.’ You can answer it that way,” continued Carlson. “But if you don’t do anything, it automatically turns into a violation and you have to go to an  ECB hearing and the fine is $300.”  

 Getting the Lead Out

 Carlson also spoke about some new federal lead paint regulations proposed by the  U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), which will affect every  single homeowner that lives in a pre-1978 single- or multi-family home.  

 “The second and most important thing is that on 2010 Earth Day, we’re all going to be under new rules and regulations from the federal government  on a pesky little thing called ‘lead paint.’ ”  

 Carlson said that under Local Law 1, pre-1960 buildings and owner-occupied  cooperatives were carved out. “You did not have to do anything much. When you get to the federal EPA law that  goes into effect 4/22/10, all that is gone. Because it’s going to be pre-‘78 buildings—so it’s much more population—and it does not exempt co-ops and condominiums.”  

 The EPA is requiring that a certified renovator or lead paint specialist be used  in all situations involving renovations where older lead-based paint will be  uncovered or disturbed, Carlson continued. “What it means is that if you have somebody touching in square feet—6 square feet on a wall—disturbing the paint in a pre-’78 building that is not certified lead-free, you have to use whether it’s your staff or an outside contractor, you have to use an EPA-certified lead  paint supervisor."  

 Because of the proposed new rules, Carlson said the Federation is planning to  commission an EPA-certified trainer to provide classes to building staff and  managers so that they too could become trained as well. He said that lead paint  is one type of exclusion often put into insurance policies these days and  boards must get a separate rider if they want coverage.  

 “My advice: I’m not advocating it, but I would think about it is those buildings built between  1960 and 1978 to consider getting a test to certify your building as lead-free,  and then you don’t have to worry about anything.” Carlson added that his own building—built in 1965—is certified as lead-free.  

 The law applies to interior apartment renovations as well as common areas.  Therefore, if anyone is renovating their own apartment and using a private  contractor, that contractor must also be EPA-certified, Carlson said.  

 The original legislation was passed 10 years ago but never enforced by EPA until  now, he said, adding that the scope of the federal law far exceeds New York  City law. Not only does the federal law apply to any apartment that has a child  under the age of 6 living there, he says, but puts another caveat in to protect  women that are pregnant.  

 The burden of proof is ultimately on the owner. In a cooperative corporation,  the board of directors is typically deemed the owner whereas in a condo, the  unit owner is responsible. So that means that every single co-op or condo in  the New York area will have to review their renovation agreements, their rules  and regulations, and so on. Co-ops, he says, might even consider amending their  rules to shift the burden of responsibility to the shareholder.  

 The new rules mean that there will be more paperwork involved as well as the  close scrutiny by the co-op’s managing agent or super. And, the kicker, he noted, is the enforcement aspect  of the law. Anyone in violation could potentially face fines of $32,500 per  day. “They’re going to bill you. They’re going to fine you as ABC Co-op Corporation.”  

 “Who’s going to determine whether there’s lead paint present? How are they actually going to make that determination?” asked Warren Schreiber, board president of Bay Terrace, a Queens co-op and a  Federation member. “The reason I’m asking is because if it requires an engineer, we can actually charge that back  to the shareholder. That would be part of their alteration clause.”  

 The inspection would involve sampling apartments, taking a look at the common  areas, and making a determination as to the status of the building, Carlson  said. If they find that all of the inspected apartments and areas are  lead-free, then they can certify the building as lead-free. The downside,  however, he said, is that if lead is found, it must be immediately disclosed  and remedied.  

 There may be a lag time in regard to actual enforcement. They are just issuing  licenses to certified trainers now, five months before the new law is scheduled  to take effect, Carlson said. “This involves everybody, not just single-family homes.”  

 Fifi and Fido

 Another thing on the City Council’s radar, said Carlson, is that New York City wants to propose a new local law  permitting companion animals for senior citizens. Under the proposal, said  Carlson, if your co-op or condo has a ‘no-pet’ policy, the animal would be allowed as long as the person was 62 years of age  or older and had supporting documentation from a physician or other  professional certifying the need. “No matter what your cooperative or condominium policy is, if you have a no-pet  policy and they have a document saying they need it for companionship or for  their emotional well-being, guess what, you can’t deny it.”  

 Carlson said the Federation has voiced its objection to the proposal, and that a  co-op under the business judgment rule has some discretion in controlling its  own affairs. “My point is that if a cooperative has a no-pet policy, let the board decide.”  

 On other matters, Attorney Geoff Mazel of the Manhattan-based law firm of Hankin  & Mazel, PLLC, updated the membership on the status of Intro 967. This City  Council-sponsored legislation, which is part of the Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s larger PlaNYC 2030, would require that all buildings including co-ops larger  than 50,000 square feet undergo periodic energy audits. The caveat in the  proposal is that if a building can be retrofitted to save energy with a project  payback period of seven years or less, the building would have to do the  project.  

 “You’d have to do whatever the energy audit recommends if the payback is seven years  or less,” Carlson said. “I went to the City Council hearing and said ‘why doesn’t the city pay for all these band-aids?’ They replied that the city doesn’t have the money. “I looked at them and said ‘What do you think we can do? Do you think we have it?’ Our expenses in a co-op and condominium have gone up in the last few years—40 percent—because of real estate taxes, insurance, water and sewer, just those alone, and  fuel, too.”  

 Carlson added that the dialogue with City Councilman James F. Gennaro, D-24, who  represents portions of Queens, and other committee members, is continuing, and  they are hopeful that a revised bill will be forthcoming. Mazel said he is  working with Federation members and other co-op organizations to facilitate  changes to the bills.  

 “We’re more regulated now than we ever were in our lifetimes,” Carlson said.  

 The Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums (FNYHC) will be holding a seminar discussion on the new lead paint  rules at 10 a.m., December 12, 2009 at North Shore Towers in Floral Park.  Contact them at 718-423-4438 or email for  reservations and further information.   

 Debra A. Estock is managing editor of The Cooperator.

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