In light of the catastrophic, deadly condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida, at the end of June, boards and residents in multifamily buildings across the country are taking a hard look at how their own properties measure up to the structural maintenance and safety requirements imposed by states and municipalities. From conducting regular, competent physical plant inspections to making needed repairs in a timely fashion, these ordinances are in place to ensure the safety and integrity of buildings and their components over their useful lives. CooperatorNews spoke with attorneys in several markets to get a better sense of how requirements vary across the country, how different regions compare with each other, and how residents and administrators can do their part to keep their own buildings safe.
“In New York State, condominiums are governed by Article 9B of the Real Property Act,” says Mark Hakim, an attorney specializing in co-op and condominium law with the firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. “The Act provides a framework for the formation, operation, and management of condominiums in New York. It is intended to provide the basis for which the offering plan is prepared; the requisite disclosures are made; and the building is governed, used, and managed. It is not intended to micromanage the day-to-day operations of any building. It’s left up to the boards of each building to determine the building’s needs and make repairs and replacements consistent with those needs, as well as enact budget and policy subject to the specific language of its governing documents. The Act is not intended to, nor does it contain, any requirements or language mandating when and what types of inspections, repairs, or replacement are to be made to buildings, including the frequency thereof. Rather, that is left to local regulating authorities to enact.”
Dennis Greenstein, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw, a global law firm with offices in Manhattan, concurs. He says there is no clear mandate for inspections in the New York State Condominium Act; however, “The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) Façade Inspection & Safety Program, also referred to as Local Law 11, requires that owners of buildings with more than six stories have a professional engineer or registered architect examine the building’s exterior walls every five years. While it does not require an inspection of the entire building, this has been a very effective law. It was initially more limited in the façade areas to be inspected, but was then expanded to the current requirements. Among other things, if unsafe conditions are found in the inspection of the façade, the engineer or architect must notify the City and the building owner and advise what appropriate protective measures are to be taken.” Greenstein adds that Local Law 11 also requires that conditions found to be unsafe must be corrected within a certain time from the date the DOB is notified, and a form be filed with the DOB when those conditions are corrected. There are provisions in the law that allow for extending the cure period, and in 2020, the DOB enacted more comprehensive façade examinations, cavity wall probes, reporting requirements, and increased civil penalties for noncompliance, among other updates.
Greenstein says that to be clear, there are provisions in the bylaws of condominiums, the proprietary leases of cooperatives, the New York City Housing Maintenance Code, and the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law that do require landlords and board members to maintain their buildings. There are laws which require, among other things, inspections for elevator safety and sprinklers, in addition to the provision requirements under Local Law 11.
Hakim adds that under Local Law 11, “if there are unsafe conditions, owners are required to report them immediately and repair them—usually within 30 days if possible. As of August 2018, New York State passed a law mandating garage inspections every three years, providing a blueprint to New York City for its new rules anticipated to go into effect on January 1, 2022. Those new rules, similar to Local Law 11 for façades, will mandate periodic inspections and classifications, and will include reporting requirements and repair obligations for any garage deemed unsafe. In addition, a stability analysis showing that the structure is stable under anticipated loads will be required.”