It seems like there is scaffolding around almost every building New York City building.

New York City’s “Façade Inspection Safety Program” (FISP), previously known as Local Law 11, requires that owners of buildings with more than six stories above grade have their exterior walls and appurtenances inspected per a prescribed reporting schedule.

Over time, exposure to the elements takes its toll on a building façade. Brick, stone, concrete and mortar joints can deteriorate. Steel lintels, shelf angles and fire escapes are all subject to rusting. Copings and decorative details could crack and crumble and the list goes on. Unfortunately, any of these failures can become a hazardous condition especially if they fall from the building! 

New York City Local Law 10 of 1980 was enacted after a piece of masonry fell from the façade of a building on Manhattan’s upper west side, a Columbia University-owned apartment house built in 1912, killing a Bernard college student. The New York City Council responded by amended the NYC Building Code mandating owners of buildings over six stories in height to have their exterior walls periodically inspected by a licensed professional engineer or registered architect. Reports based on this periodic “critical examination” must be filed with the Department of Buildings. 

Local Law 11 Inspection of 1998 modified Local Law 10 of 1980 by broadening the scope of the required façade inspections and imposed more stringent requirements for repair of deteriorated conditions. Changes enacted under Local Law 11 governed the fifth inspection cycle, which commenced in 2000. 

Local Law 11 is now referred to as the Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP). The intent is to make New York City building and streets safer. The law has been modified over the years; most recently to include the inspection of balcony railings, handrails and guardrails. This was in response to a fall fatality related to a deficient balcony railing.

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 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.

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.

When unsafe conditions are reported to the DOB, 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.

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.


Leave a Reply