Prevent Catastrophic Damage: The Importance of Retaining Wall Inspections

Prevent Catastrophic Damage: The Importance of Retaining Wall Inspections

By Andy Pisani

As worldwide climate change continues unabated, in New York we often see the powerful and sometimes deadly force Mother Nature can bring. Flash floods, erratic freeze/thaw cycles, the destruction of trees by humans and nature, all have an effect on soil and its integrity. For these reasons, we cannot stress enough the importance of retaining wall inspections. In past years, all five boroughs have seen retaining walls collapse with deadly consequences. 

If a property includes a retaining wall that’s 10 feet or higher at any point and fronts a public right-of-way, the building owner must have the structure inspected at least once every five years and file a report with the DOB. The current inspection cycle (Cycle 2) ends on December 31, 2023. 

Please do not wait for the deadline to have any retaining wall checked. With sometimes drastic elevation changes between neighbors, even five- or six-foot retaining walls in your rear or side yard—while not required to file with the DOB—should be checked for stability and the safety of everyone. 

Inspection Requirements 

The inspection must be performed by a NYS-licensed professional engineer who is a DOB-designated Qualified Retaining Wall Inspector (QRWI). The report must be filed within 60 days of completing the inspection.  

Owners who share a retaining wall with one or more neighbors may hire one QRWI for the inspection, but each property owner must pay the filing fees.  

Staggered Sub-Cycles 

The current inspection cycle (Cycle 2) runs from January 1, 2019, until December 31, 2023. Cycles are staggered into five sub-cycles, based on borough location.  

  • Bronx: January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019 
  • Manhattan: January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020 
  • Staten Island: January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021 
  • Queens: January 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022 
  • Brooklyn: January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023 

Associated Filing Fees 

  • Initial Filing: $335  
  • Amended/Subsequent Filing: $130  
  • Application for Extension of Time to Complete Repairs: $260 

Retaining Wall Ratings 

The QRWI will issue one of the following ratings upon completing an inspection: 

  • Safe 
  • Safe with Minor Repairs or Maintenance 
  • Safe with Repairs and/or Engineering Monitoring 
  • Unsafe 

If an inspector discovers an unsafe condition, he or she must complete and email the Notification of Unsafe Conditions form (RWIP3) to the DOB Retaining Wall Unit within 24 hours, before submitting the inspection report. 

Correction of Unsafe Conditions 

Owners must immediately take measures to ensure public safety and repair any unsafe wall conditions. Within two weeks of completing repairs, the QRWI must re-inspect the premises, obtain permit sign-offs as needed, and submit an amended report with the revised retaining wall rating, along with amended report filing fees.  

All repairs to remedy unsafe conditions must be completed within 365 days of filing the RWIP3 form. 

Associated Penalties 

  • Late Filing: $250 per month 
  • Failure to File: $1,000 per year 
  • Failure to Correct an Unsafe Condition: $1,000 per month (prorated daily) 

If you have any questions or need assistance with Retaining Wall Inspections, please contact the Metropolis Group at 212.233.6344.