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SuperScript is a quarterly newsletter from SUPERSTRUCTURES. Founded in 1981, we are a firm of architects, structural engineers, and conservators dedicated to the art and science of exterior restoration.

New York City's Facade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP)

The Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP, also known as Local Law 11 ) is a set of regulations addressing the conditions of NYC’s buildings’ exterior walls and their appurtenances. FISP consists of a section of the NYC Administrative Code adopted by the City Council and fleshed out in a rule promulgated by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). Every five years, facades of all NYC buildings over six stories must be examined by a qualified professional, and a report filed with the DOB.

SUPERSTRUCTURES has been performing mandated exterior wall inspections for many of NYC’s most prominent buildings since the inception of the City’s first facade inspection ordinance in 1980. Our experienced architects and engineers can help you navigate and comply with FISP.

The most recent FISP inspection cycle, Cycle 8, ended February 21, 2019. The next cycle, Cycle 9, will commence on February 21, 2020, and will run through February 21, 2024. The following table shows the three phased sub-cycles within Cycle 9:

The tabs below will help you understand FISP, what it means for your building(s), and how we can help you stay in compliance with confidence.

 

The Basics
New in Cycle 9
Initial Reports for New Buildings
Background and History
Related Documents and Links

The general requirements governing facade inspections in NYC are contained in Article 302 of Title 28 of the NYC Administrative Code, entitled Maintenance of Exterior Walls. Detailed inspection and reporting requirements, as well as penalties, are delineated in 1 RCNY §103-04 Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances (DOB Rule 103-04).

Note: The requirements outlined in this section are in effect through the end of Cycle 8. They will be revised as required to reflect any substantial changes after the DOB promulgates its revised rule, expected prior to the commencement of Cycle 9 on February 21, 2020.

Changes anticipated in Cycle 9 are indicated in blue below.

Applicable Buildings and Walls

  • The program applies to buildings greater than six stories in height, including buildings that are six stories above a basement and buildings that are six stories plus a “penthouse” floor. The program does not apply to buildings that are six stories above a cellar.
  • A basement is a story partly underground but having more than one-half its clear height above the grade plane.
  • A cellar is a story partly or wholly underground but having one-half or more of its clear height below the grade plane; cellars are not counted as stories in measuring the height of buildings. To confirm whether your building has a cellar or basement, check your Certificate of Occupancy.
  • The program also applies to exterior walls greater than six stories in height on otherwise non-applicable buildings. For example, buildings situated on sloping sites or with depressed yards or courts larger than 900 sf.

Examination Requirements

  • The program mandates a Critical Examination of the building’s exterior walls by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) during a two-year window within cycles occurring every five years.
  • All exterior walls of applicable buildings are subject to examination. (The only exemption is for walls less than 12 inches from the wall of an adjacent building.)
  • Proposed for Cycle 9:
    • The DOB will require more comprehensive facade examination and more detailed reporting requirements with increased description of observations and photographic evidence of inspections.
    • Physical inspection requirements will increase from a single scaffold drop (or use of other observation platform) to examinations performed at intervals of not more than 60 feet, and shall occur along a path from grade to top of an exterior wall fronting each “public right-of-way” and egress easements, using at least one scaffold drop or other observation platform configuration, including all exterior wall setbacks. “Public right-of-way” has been defined as any street, avenue, roadway, or other public place or public way. Exception: If part of the building fronting the public right-of-way and egress easements is six stories or less in height, a close-up inspection need not be performed on that part of the building.
    • There will be an increased focus on cavity walls commencing in Cycle 9 and every second cycle thereafter. At minimum, a single probe at the location of each physical inspection will be required and there must be an adequate number of probes to determine the presence, condition, and spacing of wall ties.

Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI)

In Cycle 9, a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) must be a licensed architect or professional engineer with at least three years of relevant experience per 1 RCNY §101-07 Approved Agencies. QEWIs will also have to provide detailed resumes and prove to the DOB that they have relevant experience and knowledge of NYC building codes and facade rules.

Classification of Buildings and Observed Conditions

Buildings and conditions are classified as Safe, Unsafe, or Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (aka SWARMP). Conditions identified as UNSAFE must be corrected on an expedited basis. Conditions identified as Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP) in one inspection cycle must be corrected prior to the Recommended Repair Date in the FISP report, but not later than the filing deadline of the following inspection cycle.

  • Safe is defined as a condition of a building wall, any appurtenances thereto, or any part thereof, not requiring repair or maintenance to sustain the structural integrity of the exterior of the building and that will not become unsafe during the next five years.
  • Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP) is defined as a condition of a building wall, any appurtenances thereto, or part thereof, that is safe at the time of inspection, but requires repair or maintenance during the next five years in order to prevent its deterioration into an unsafe condition during that five year period. The QEWI must provide, for any SWARMP condition, a specific date shown as month-and-year (MM/YYYY) by which the condition must be corrected.
  • An unsafe condition is defined as “a condition of a building wall, any appurtenances thereto, or any part thereof, that is hazardous to persons or property and requires prompt repair.” Additionally, any condition that was reported as SWARMP in a previous cycle that has not been corrected at the time of the inspection shall be reported in the Critical Examination Report filed with the DOB in the following cycle as an unsafe condition. For example: Cycle 7 SWARMP conditions that have not been repaired at the time the Cycle 8 Critical Examination Report is filed with the DOB must be reported as Unsafe. (Unsafe per 1 RCNY §103-04(b)(6)(iii), informally termed “Administrative” Unsafe.)

Enforcement of SWARMP Condition Repairs

DOB Rule 103-04 requires that the QEWI’s Critical Examination Report provides detailed recommendations for repairs or maintenance of SWARMP items. The DOB is now issuing ECB violations in instances where previous or current cycle SWARMP items have not been repaired prior to the initial “SWARMP Recommended Repair Date” contained in the FISP Critical Examination Report and a new (extended) repair time frame has not been obtained from the DOB.

We recommend that, if an owner has not yet completed correction of SWARMP conditions, they review the recent FISP Critical Examination Report to confirm the earliest SWARMP Recommended Repair Date listed, retain a QEWI to examine the SWARMP conditions, and, if justifiable, request an extension of the Recommended Repair Date from the DOB.

Violations have been issued to buildings with missed SWARMP Repair Dates, even though SWARMP repairs were under way. Therefore, we recommend that Repair Date extensions be obtained for buildings for which repairs are planned or in progress.

Buildings Classified as Unsafe

  • A QEWI who becomes aware of a physically Unsafe condition during a Critical Examination inspection is required to immediately notify the DOB and the building owner using a “Notification of Unsafe Conditions” (FISP3) form. The owner must immediately commence repairs or reinforcement and install a sidewalk shed or other measures to secure public safety. Any unsafe condition is to be corrected within 30 days. Renewable Extensions of Time (see below) may be granted by the Commissioner if certain conditions are met. After the Unsafe condition has been satisfactorily repaired or stabilized, the QEWI files an “Amended“ report with the DOB in which the unsafe condition is re-classified as either Safe or SWARMP, as the case may be.
  • Sidewalk sheds must remain in place after unsafe conditions have been repaired until an Amended report has been filed with the DOB and a DOB inspector has visited the site and confirmed that no unsafe conditions remain. The Amended report will then be stamped “accepted” by the DOB.
  • Under certain circumstances, the QEWI may request permission for the removal of the shed by submitting a signed, sealed statement certifying that an inspection was conducted, the conditions were corrected, and the shed is no longer required. Permission to remove all or part of the shed may then be granted based on an inspection by a DOB inspector.
  • For buildings classified as unsafe as a result of an unrepaired prior-cycle SWARMP condition, immediate notification of the DOB (by FISP3) is not required, unless a condition is observed to be physically hazardous at the time of the inspection. However, upon filing of the current cycle report with the DOB, the condition is subject to violation and must be repaired immediately (as is the case for all unsafe conditions). There is no distinction in the building code or DOB Rule 103-04 between physically unsafe conditions and what are informally termed “Administrative” unsafe conditions.

Unsafe Conditions: Extensions of Time

When the DOB has been notified of an unsafe condition (regardless of whether the unsafe report is based on a physically hazardous condition observed in the field or an unrepaired prior-cycle SWARMP condition described in a Critical Examination Report), compliance with 1 RCNY §103-04 requires the building owner do the following:

  • Immediately install public safety measures such as a sidewalk shed, construction fence, etc., at the unsafe locations.
  • Correct unsafe conditions within 30 days from the date the DOB was notified of the unsafe conditions.
  • When the unsafe conditions have been corrected, file an Amended FISP Critical Examination Report with the DOB within 15 days.
  • Most unsafe conditions cannot be corrected within the allotted 30 days. Therefore, the owner may file with the DOB for renewable “Extensions of Time.” The DOB will typically grant “Initial” and “Additional” extensions of up to 90 days, upon submission of forms FISP1 or FISP2 and a letter from an architectural or engineering firm describing the scope of work to be completed, the timetable for completion and confirmation that safety measures (e.g. sidewalk shed) are in place.
  • Extensions are required to be renewed until the unsafe conditions have been satisfactorily corrected and an Amended Critical Examination Report has been filed and accepted by the DOB.
  • Proposed for Cycle 9: For buildings with Unsafe conditions, the DOB will be stiffening the requirements under which extensions and further extensions may be granted. The DOB is also proposing financial penalties to encourage expedited repair of Unsafe conditions (for which extensions are not granted).

Reporting Requirements

  • The Critical Examination report must be filed with the DOB. The report must contain all the required information – in the sequence specified by the DOB – to be deemed “acceptable.”
  • The Critical Examination report must be filed with the DOB within 60 days of completion of the final visual inspection, and not more than one year after the completion of the physical examination (scaffold drop).
  • Proposed for Cycle 9: There will be a new requirement that building owners post and maintain the building’s facade condition certificate in the lobby in a manner similar to elevator certificates.

Amended and Subsequent Reports

  • An Amended report is filed to update the status of a building for which an Unsafe Initial Critical Examination report had been filed. The Amended report will indicate the building is either Safe or SWARMP, based on whether the Unsafe condition has been successfully repaired (Safe) or simply stabilized (SWARMP).
  • A Subsequent report may be filed at the owner’s option to change the status of a previously filed SWARMP report to a Safe report.

Filing Fees and Penalties

The following filing fees are associated with FISP reports and applications:

  • Initial Report: $265
  • Amended or Subsequent Report: $100
  • Application for an Extension of Time to complete repairs (for each 90 day extension): $135

Note: The Department of Finance adds a 2% fee on filing fees paid by credit card.

The following penalties may be levied by the DOB:

  • Failure to File an Initial Report: Failure of the owner to file an initial Critical Examination Report prior to the reporting deadline will result in a penalty of $1,000 per year.
  • Late Filing (Initial Report): There is an additional $250 per month penalty for late filing, commencing the day following the filing deadline.
  • Failure to Correct Unsafe Conditions: An owner who fails to correct any unsafe condition will face a penalty of $1,000 per month, pro-rated daily, until the condition has been corrected, and an acceptable Amended report has been filed, unless an Extension of Time to complete repairs has been granted by the Commissioner.

Combined Reports

The DOB does not accept “Combined Reports” in cases where a building has failed to file an acceptable FISP report in a prior cycle.  In cases where a prior cycle report (e.g. Cycle 8), has not been filed, a report for the “current cycle” (e.g. Cycle 9) is prepared and filed with the DOB.  This report addresses SWARMP or unsafe conditions identified in the latest previously accepted FISP report (e.g. Cycle 7).  When the current cycle report has been filed and accepted by the DOB, the DOB may then retroactively levy penalties for both Failure to File ($1,000) per year, plus Late Filing ($250/month).

Balcony and Guard Railings

An April, 2013 DOB amendment to Rule 103-04 imposed a new “fall protection” requirement that balcony railings and guards be inspected “to ensure that their components (balusters, intermediate railings and panel fillers) are positively secured against upward movement (e.g. by welds, bolts, or screws).”

In the context of FISP, “balcony” is used as a general term encompassing the entire balcony structure, including handrails, guards, railings, and connections.

The details of this inspection are outlined in the DOB Memo issued on May 5, 2014, which stipulates:

  • All railings and guards must be inspected for both structural stability and code compliance.
  • Code compliance will include inspection of the railings and guards with respect to codes in effect at the time they were installed or substantially altered.
  • If the observations reveal that the balconies, handrails or connections are unsafe, then the balcony, terrace, roof or other area must be vacated until the defective condition has been repaired and made safe.

Balcony and Terrace Enclosures

The DOB requires that all balcony and terrace enclosures be inspected for structural stability by a QEWI in connection with FISP compliance filings. However, the DOB rescinded its policy requiring that documentation of Work Permits be produced for existing balcony and terrace enclosures. This requirement, which stipulated that undocumented balcony and terrace enclosures would have to be removed, had been introduced by the DOB (to the consternation of many) in July, 2014.

DOB NOW: Safety for FISP Compliance  

In 2016, the DOB launched its DOB NOW: Safety web portal where all FISP actions occur online. Building owners, their representatives, and their QEWI’s conduct all facade-related interactions with each other, and with the DOB, through DOB NOW.

The DOB NOW Digital Filing Process

  • The QEWI, retained by the owner, conducts the critical examination of the building facades, railings, guards and appurtenances, and prepares a FISP Critical Examination Report in the prescribed DOB NOW digital format.
  • The QEWI uploads the Report, together with an electronic TR6 Technical Report form, and all required supporting documents (including the QEWI’s seal and signature), to DOB NOW as an “Initial Filing.” (In this case, “Initial Filing” means the first filing for the current Cycle). DOB NOW issues a tracking “Filing Number.”
  • The owner (or owner’s representative) logs into DOB NOW and reviews the QEWI’s report.* If it is acceptable, the owner electronically signs the Owner’s Statement acknowledging his/her understanding of the QEWI’s report and certifying to the DOB that any SWARMP conditions from the previous cycle have been corrected.

*To simplify the owner’s review of the report, SUPERSTRUCTURES provides a PDF version of the FISP Report to our clients for review and comment.

  • The owner pays the Filing Fee as well as any other required payments (e.g. Late Filing Fees, or other penalties) online.
  • The QEWI makes a final review of the filing, makes any necessary changes, confirms that fees have been paid, and transmits the completed report via DOB NOW.
  • When the TR6/FISP Report has been successfully uploaded, DOB NOW will send an email notification to both the owner (or owner’s representative) and the QEWI with the following subject line: “Initial TR6 has been filed for 123 Main St with Filing Number TR6-1232456-8A-I1.”
  • When the DOB has completed its review, DOB NOW will send an email to both the owner (or owner’s representative) and the QEWI notifying them that the Initial Filing has been “Accepted” or “Rejected.”
  • In cases where the Initial Filing has been rejected, the DOB NOW email will include “review comments,” along with a note that an “acceptable” report must be filed within 45 days of the date of the email, in order to keep the current Initial Filing date and filing fee. The QEWI (and owner, when necessary) address the DOB NOW comments and “re-submit” the Initial TR6/FISP Report to DOB NOW.
  • Once the Initial TR6/FISP report has been uploaded to DOB NOW, all subsequent compliance “actions” are filed in the system. These actions include: Subsequent or Amended Report and TR6 filings, UNSAFE notifications (FISP3), Initial and Additional Extension Requests (for unsafe repairs), sidewalk shed removals, and others.

Creating a DOB NOW eFiling Account for FISP Compliance

Owners and owners’ representatives who currently have an active “eFiling” account with NYC Development Hub do not need to create a separate DOB NOW account.

If you do not already have an active “eFiling” account with NYC Development Hub, create one by:

  • Going to the DOB NOW “Welcome to eFiling” Click on “Register for electronic filing” just below the “Login” button.
  • Filling out all requested information. Below the section titled User Account Information you will need to select one of two options. Please select the first listed option – “I do not have a license or DOB Issued ID # – (includes owners, building managers or owner representatives).” Enter your name in “Agreement” and click “Submit” to create your account.
  • DOB NOW will send an email confirmation.

For assistance in creating your eFiling account, please contact us.

Back to top

FISP Cycle 9 Phased Sub-Cycles

 

The Cycle 9 Inspection Cycle, Commencing with Subcycle 9A, Opens on February 21, 2020.

The DOB is in the process of revising Rule 103-04, which governs the details of the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP).  We will provide an update here as soon as details of the revised rule become available.

Until the DOB promulgates the amended Rule, the information that follows should be considered provisional for planning purposes only.

Significant changes proposed in Cycle 9:

  • The DOB will require more comprehensive facade examination and more detailed reporting requirements with increased description of observations and photographic evidence of inspections.
  • Physical inspection requirements will increase. Currently, a single scaffold drop on a street facade is required. Proposed in Cycle 9: drops at intervals not exceeding 60 linear feet on each exterior wall fronting on a street or other “public right-of-way,” including egress easements.
  • There will be an increased focus on cavity walls commencing in Cycle 9 and every second cycle thereafter. At minimum, a single probe at the location of each physical inspection will be required and there must be an adequate number of probes to determine the presence, condition, and spacing of wall ties.
  • For buildings with UNSAFE conditions, the DOB will be stiffening the requirements under which extensions and further extensions may be granted. The DOB is also proposing financial penalties to encourage expedited repair of unsafe conditions (for which extensions are not granted).
  • Cycle 9 raises the bar for Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors (QEWI’s): Requirements for their experience and responsibilities will go from one year of relevant experience to three years of relevant experience with buildings over six stories. QEWI will also have to provide detailed resumes and prove to the DOB that they have relevant experience and knowledge of NYC building codes and facade rules.
  • There will be a new requirement that building owners post and maintain the building’s facade condition certificate in the lobby in a manner similar to elevator certificates.

 

Initial Critical Examination Reports are due 5 years from the date that the first Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO #1) for the building was issued for “new” buildings greater than 6 stories in height and for alterations which involve vertical enlargements of existing buildings to a height greater than 6 stories.

For the current cycle, if the 5 year anniversary of a building’s first TCO falls prior to or within the applicable inspection “sub-cycle” (based on the last digit of the building’s Block number), a report is due in Cycle 9. If the 5 year anniversary falls after the applicable Cycle 9 “sub-cycle,” the initial report shall be due during the applicable sub-cycle of Cycle 10 (2025 -2030).

The filing requirements for recently constructed or vertically enlarged buildings are summarized in the table below.

The Date of the First Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO #1) for a recently constructed new building can be obtained from the DOB Buildings Information System (BIS) website. For assistance in identifying the date of TCO #1, please contact us.

 

Local Law 10 of 1980, as amended and amplified by Local Law 11 of 1998, is the oldest continually enforced facade inspection law in the nation. The program governed by these laws is now referred to as “FISP” signifying the NYC Department of Building’s Facade Inspection Safety Program. There are upwards of 12,500 buildings subject to the inspection requirements of FISP.

New York City’s initial facade inspection law, Local Law 10, was enacted in February 1980, shortly after a piece of masonry fell from the facade of a building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, killing a pedestrian. The New York City Council, in an effort to minimize the chances of such accidents ever occurring again, amended the NYC Building Code, mandating that owners of applicable buildings have their exterior walls and appurtenances periodically inspected by a licensed professional engineer or registered architect. The first facade inspection cycle ran from February 21, 1980, to February 21, 1982.

In July 1980, the DOB promulgated DOB Rule 1 RCNY 32-03 governing Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and their Appurtenances. The new rule expanded the general requirements of the law and provided more specific requirements for compliance. (The DOB Rule had been revised on several occasions and was re-numbered 1 RCNY 103-04 in 2011.)

In December 1997 a large section of a side wall of 540 Madison Avenue rained down on the street from above the 33rd floor. Tons of debris were left hanging in a safety net that had been installed as a precautionary measure after the bulge in the wall was observed. Remarkably, injuries were relatively minor.

Less than three months after the failure, on March 13, 1998, Mayor Giuliani signed Local Law 11 of 1998 into immediate effect. Local Law 11 bears no numerical relationship to Local Law 10. Local Law 11 was the 11th law enacted by the City Council during the year 1998. Like Local Law 10, it was an amendment to the Building Code. The main thrust of the legislation was to remove exemptions permitted under Local Law 10. Local Law 11 became effective during the 5th cycle, between 2000 and 2002.

In August 2007, Mayor Bloomberg signed Local Law 38 of 2007, which required the Buildings Commissioner to establish “staggered inspection cycles” for buildings governed by the facade inspection requirements of Local Laws 10 and 11. The new law spread the approximately 12,500 inspection reports processed by the DOB over a three year period. In February 2009, at the start of Cycle 7, the DOB amended its rule detailing the staggered inspection cycles.

FISP inspections now occur in three “staggered” two-year “sub-cycles,” commencing one year apart. Buildings are divided into three groups, (Sub-cycles A, B and C), based on the last digit of their respective “Block” number (as in “Block and Lot”). See Cycle 9 Information tab for details.

In April 2013, in response to a tragic balcony accident, DOB Rule 103-04 was again amended to include inspection of balcony railings to “insure their adequacy and structural integrity.” The rule was further revised by a departmental memo in May 2015 expanding the interpretation of “balcony” railings to include handrails and guards on all terraces, walkways, corridors, fire escapes, roofs, and setbacks, as well as “any other related handrails and guards.” Balcony enclosures as well as rooftop greenhouses and solariums were incorporated by a departmental summary issued in July 2015.

Why FISP?

The stated purpose of NYC’s facade ordinances is improved pedestrian safety.

Every facade type (old and new) exhibits characteristic forms of deterioration. Water is the enemy of building facades, particularly in our NYC climate with its winter freeze/thaw cycles, salt air from the marine environment, and air polluted with chemical salts. Water infiltrates facades through small cracks in masonry and through deteriorated sealant via capillary action.

In winter, the water freezes, expands, and causes the tiny cracks to enlarge. In a vicious cycle, water continues to infiltrate the facade wall through the larger cracks. The water within the wall, in turn, causes unprotected steel beams and columns to rust. The rusting steel expands, and eventually will cause a parapet to shift, or a spandrel wall to bulge. The process is termed “ice-jacking.”

Pre-World War 2 buildings, many approaching 100 years or more in age, have an intrinsic advantage over more modern structures. They were built with a fortress mentality. Solid masonry walls 24 inches thick were not uncommon. The masonry mass of the wall was used to resist water penetration. Architectural details such as cornices and belt courses were not only ornamental; they served the functional purpose of helping the facade shed water. However, advanced age, and lack of proper and systematic maintenance of many older buildings have exploited the inherent weaknesses in the systems.

The life expectancy of many lighter-gauge Post-World War 2 “cavity wall” brick-faced facades, now approaching 70 years in age, will not equal that of their more massive predecessors. Small galvanized metal ties and anchors bonding the exterior brick course to back-up block were either not originally installed in adequate numbers, or have deteriorated.

In the current speculative building boom, facades often comprise a mosaic of varied materials: expansive glass curtain walls, precast brick and metal panels, and stucco. Assembly of these facades requires rigid construction tolerances in both materials and workmanship, which sadly are not being met. Many of these buildings are already displaying symptoms of facade failures such as water and air penetration – shortly after they are completed.

The requirements of the facade NYC’s inspection laws, when followed, serve to provide a reasonable degree of protection of pedestrians from catastrophic facade failures.

Furthermore, while Local Law 11 / FISP is sometimes perceived as a “nuisance” for building owners, it presents an opportunity for knowledgeable owners to take a longer view, exploiting an opportunity for preventive maintenance, thereby reducing future deterioration, and the higher cost of deferred maintenance.