New York City hosts thousands of buildings of varying sizes and heights. Over time, buildings can degrade in quality and become unsafe. While many homeowners and city residents may consider a building’s interior when considering safety, the exterior of buildings also significantly affects the large and bustling city environment.
When a building grows older, parts of the exterior can erode and cause extremities to fall onto the street and injure pedestrians, vehicles, or other pieces of property. Newer buildings can also have issues due and cause parts to fall down below. Items that fall from tall distances quickly gain momentum and can cause serious injury or death. Therefore, buildings in New York City must comply with safety regulations to keep residents safe.
Local Law 11, now called the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), works to ensure that building exteriors remain in a safe condition by complying with local codes and regulations. The program requires that property owners conduct inspections every five years to determine the building’s safety level. The following article dives deeper into the law to provide valuable information for property owners and those curious about the city’s dedication to public safety.
What is Local Law 11? Is it the Same Thing as FISP?
Rudy Giuliani signed Local Law 11 into effect in 1998 to update its preceding legislation, Local Law 10. Local Law 10 helped standardize building inspections across New York City.
NYC Local Law 11 passed due to increasing levels of unsafe incidents that resulted from inspections that lacked thorough protocols. As bricks and other facade extremities fell onto innocent passersby, the city implemented FISP to ensure buildings remained safe and secure.
In compliance with Local Law 11, all buildings that are taller than six stories must complete a façade inspection every five years. The law caused some negative externalities—including increased costs, the periodic blocking of certain views, and rampant scaffolding throughout the city—but, to its credit, the natural collapse and burning of historic buildings in New York City has measurably decreased. Currently, 14,000 buildings across the city require an inspection every five years.
Local Law 11 now goes by the name Façade and Safety Program, or the acronym FISP.
What Does a Façade Inspection Include?
FISP inspections are different from interior building inspections; as the name implies, the primary focus is on the façade (structural exterior) of the building. Property owners must hire qualified inspectors to complete the exterior inspection. Only certain professions, Qualified Exterior Wall Inspections (QEWIs), can complete inspections for FISP.
Usually, this includes—but is not limited to—the following:
- Exterior structures and architectural features,
- Fire escapes,
- Greenhouses and other outdoor spaces,
- And building-specific risk factors.
During the inspection, the QEWI will examine every physical component of the building’s exterior. They will compare the state of the building to the corresponding code and may also conduct some light stability testing. It takes varying amounts of time for a QEWI, or team of QEWIs, to conduct an inspection based on the building’s size and intricacy.
FISP Filing Classifications
After the inspection, the QEWI files an electronic report with the state of New York and assigns the building one of three classifications, as mentioned on the program’s website:
- Safe: No problems and in good condition; or,
- Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP): Safe, but requires repair/maintenance; or,
- Unsafe: Problems/defects threaten public safety.
If a building receives an unsafe classification, it must immediately implement a protective structure around the building’s exterior. They must then work to bring their building up to code. Some property owners may pay fines or face a forceful evacuation.
How Do New York’s FISP Cycles Work?
Currently, there are more than 14,000 buildings within the City of New York that is more than six stories tall and requires an inspection every five years. To organize the schedule of inspections, the program completes inspections in cycles. FISP is currently conducting Cycle 9 from February 21, 2020, through February 20, 2025.
Every five-year cycle consists of sub-cycles to help further organize the program’s schedule. Each building falls into a sub-cycle, as broken down below:
- Sub-Cycle A: Blocks ending in the number 4, 5, 6, or 9,
- Sub-Cycle B: Blocks ending in 0, 7, or 8,
- and Sub-Cycle C: Blocks ending in 1, 2, or 3.
Each sub-cycle consists of a period of time to conduct an inspection and a following amount of time to file the report. Sub-cycle 9C opened for filing in February 2022, and building owners and inspectors can now file their reports. The filing period for Sub-Cycle 9B closed on February 21, 2023.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly complicated and altered the inspection cycle, so some inspections may not match the pre-established inspection calendar. As a general rule of thumb, building owners can expect to schedule their inspections five years after their previous inspection. However, owners can confirm with the FISP program if they need to alter their inspection date in light of the pandemic.
Who is Responsible for FISP Compliance?
Ultimately, property owners hold responsibility for ensuring that their building is up to code and ready to pass the inspection. Owners should take care to repair or replace broken fixtures, loose railings, structural damage, or any other unsafe conditions whenever they become noticeable. However, they should take extra care to complete repairs before the inspection to avoid fines or other recriminations.
Property owners can also take steps to limit the amount of potential damage to their building’s exterior. Limiting rooftop access, setting protocols for move-ins and move-outs, and helping provide items like AC brackets for tenants can maintain an exterior’s condition.