By Frank Fortino
Last month, I had the privilege and pleasure of speaking at RealFocus 2020, a full-day industry conference sponsored by SiteCompli. The session “DOB Code Compliance Updates & Outlook” focused on post-COVID changes at the Department of Buildings (DOB) and what to expect moving forward with regard to code compliance.
Kudos to DOB Rapid Response
Before talking about the current compliance situation, I’d like to commend the DOB for its rapid response at the start of the pandemic. The agency looked at ways to submit almost everything electronically. For items that required a drop-off, DOB set up drop-off stations. Everyone who could report to work did so because they were essential. The DOB really turned things around and worked the best way they could in an emergency situation with no playbook.
While nothing is perfect, the electronic submittals have generally worked well and been very helpful, and the new procedures have helped us as an industry get through these tough times as best as we could.
Preparing for Heightened Enforcement
We’ve seen enforcement increase in recent years, particularly in areas related to public safety, like the Façade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP). Penalties and fees are going up, and new directives are constantly going into effect. As a result, it’s becoming more important to be proactive to avoid heavy fines.
The compliance team at Metropolis Group routinely helps owners and managers resolve issues before they lead to violations. We start by reviewing outstanding issues already on the Building Profile. Then, we do a deeper dive and identify any with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Finally, we walk through the building and point out any issues that a city inspector would flag. By doing their homework up front, owners and managers can bring the building in full compliance before agencies come in and place violations or stop work orders.
These walk-throughs can help owners and managers stay on top of the new directives coming out of the DOB, FDNY, and other agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation. It’s especially important to document the activities of all the fire safety products in a building, such as fire alarm systems and elevators.
Upcoming Code Changes
New codes have been released, with additional code changes expected in the coming year. At the same time, new policies and directives continue to modify compliance requirements, particularly those concerning energy efficiency. Flood requirements are also being updated as a result of global warming and the severe storms that have grown in frequency.
In addition, FDNY is implementing new policies and filing procedures in the interest of ensuring public safety. First responders need to have information about, and access to, the different fire alarm devices in a building so they can fight and contain fires and/or smoke conditions.
Best Practices for Projects
Given the constant changes in our industry, I strongly encourage anyone who is considering a property purchase or major project to get a thorough understanding of the site, the building, and the regulations in effect. No two buildings are the same. For new buildings, it’s important to look at the property and conduct a bulk study in zoning to understand any potential restrictions or deeds on the property, as well as any air right transfers. Doing the homework up front will identify any restrictions that could potentially stifle a building design.
And then, after doing that due diligence, double-check the work and ask questions. There are always other ways to look at a site, to resolve problems, or to interpret different sections of the code or zoning regulations.
The complete interview will be available online through December 31, 2020.