Façade Inspection Safety Program

New York City’s “Façade Inspection Safety Program” (FISP), previously known as Local Law 11, requires that owners of buildings with six or more stories above grade have their exterior walls and appurtenances inspected periodically. A licensed Registered Architect or Professional Engineer must conduct this inspection. Since 1981, Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, P.C. has assisted clients in staying in compliance with FISP requirements.

HLZA and FISP

Since the enactment of FISP in 1980 (Local Law 10), HLZA has prepared and filed the required examination reports for our clients, and is widely recognized as a premier professional resource for FISP compliance. We have established a close working relationship with the Façades Compliance Division of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and work directly with the division toward approval of all reports filed by HLZA on behalf of our clients. During the last cycle (Cycle 7), HLZA prepared and submitted over five hundred such reports.

Over the past 30 years, a high concentration of HLZA’s work has involved investigation and remediation of the exterior envelope as well as structural systems for all building types, from pre-war to modern construction. We provide our clients with a thorough analysis and evaluation of building façades upon which they can base construction and rehabilitation decisions and maintain compliance with FISP requirements. Our goal is to consistently provide the highest quality professional architectural and engineering services for preserving a structure’s design integrity while factoring in the reality of our clients’ budgets and goals.


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Overview of FISP – Transformation from Local Law 10/80

New York City Local Law 10 of 1980 was enacted shortly after a piece of masonry fell from the façade of a building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, killing a pedestrian (Grace Gold, a Barnard Student). In an effort to curtail the occurrence of such accidents the New York City Council amended the NYC Building Code. The City mandated that owners of applicable buildings have their street façades and appurtenances periodically inspected by a licensed Registered Architect or Professional Engineer and that a Report based on this periodic "critical examination" must be filed with the Department of Buildings. The law applies to all buildings that are greater than six stories in height.

In 1997 and 1998 New York City experienced several highly publicized exterior wall failures. In response, New York City Local Law 11 of 1998 was passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor in March of 1998. The new law, known as Local Law 11 of 1998, further expanded the requirements for inspection and maintenance of the façades of buildings greater than six stories in height. Owners of all such buildings must have a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer inspect the entire building envelope, including walls facing the rear or sides of adjacent buildings. At least one complete inspection from ground level to roof level via a scaffold (or other observation platform) is also required. Following specific guidelines provided by the Department of Buildings, the professional must determine the condition of all walls and appurtenances and compare it to the condition reported in prior Local Law 10/11 reports.

Another significant change was the elimination of the "precautionary" filing status. Under Local Law 11 of 1998, the inspecting professional must designate the building as either, Safe, Safe with a repair and maintenance program "SWARMP" or Unsafe. Furthermore, the Report must be signed by both Architect/Engineer and Owner. Moreover, no previously described repair conditions can be reported in two consecutive cycles.

In 2010, the program in its 7th Cycle was renamed to FISP (Façade Inspection Safety Program) and staggered filings were introduced. In 2013, the 7th Cycle required supplemental inspections of guardrails, balcony and fire escapes for structural stability and code compliance. 2015 opened the 8th Cycle of FISP and guardrails and handrail elements must be incorporated into the report.

The detailed inspection and reporting requirements, as well as additional law updates, are contained in RCNY §103-04 Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances of Buildings.


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Staggered Sub-Cycle Filing Windows for 8th Cycle

Previously, all buildings greater than six stories in the city of New York had one Local Law 11/98 filing deadline. The Department of Buildings (DOB) was completely overwhelmed by the number of reports being filed at the end of the inspection Cycle 6 in order to meet the filing deadline.

As a result, in 2007 Mayor Bloomberg signed Local Law 38, which required the Commissioner of Buildings to establish staggered inspection cycles for buildings governed by the façade evaluation requirements established under Local Law 11 of 1998. Each Building's filing window is now determined by the last digit of its block number.

8th Cycle

FILING WINDOW LAST DIGIT OF BLOCK # START DATE END DATE
A 4, 5, 6 OR 9 2/21/2015 2/21/2017
B 0, 7 OR 8 2/21/2016 2/21/2018
C 1, 2 OR 3 2/21/2017 2/21/2019


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DOB FISP Filing Fees and Penalties

The FISP report shall be submitted to the Department along with a filing fee as specified in the rules of the Department of Buildings as follows:

  Filing Fee
Initial Report $265
Amended/Subsequent Report $100
Extension Request $135

 

Furthermore, the following penalties are enforced by the Department of Buildings and apply after the filing period ends:

  Penalty
Late Filing (Initial Report) $250 per month
Failure to File (Initial Report) $1,000 per year
Failure to correct UNSAFE conditions $1,000 per month


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FISP Questions & Answers

Which Buildings must be filed?

The requirements for filing façade inspection reports applies to all buildings with exterior walls or parts thereof that are greater than six stories in height, including the basement (floor level with at least half of its floor-to-ceiling height above the street level) regardless of the information in the Certificate of Occupancy. The Commissioner shall determine which additional buildings are required to file in accordance with this rule.

When do new Buildings have to be filed?

Once a new building is issued the first Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, the 5 year "grace period" begins. After this 5 year period is over, the building must file during next applicable cycle. If the 5 year period ends before or during the building's corresponding window, the building must file during that cycle. If the 5 year period falls after the filing window has closed, the building does not have to file until the next cycle.

Which Exterior Walls are affected?

All exterior walls must be inspected with the exception of walls which are less than twelve inches from the exterior wall of an adjacent building.

What does a typical FISP inspection involve?

In addition to visual inspections of the building, close-up inspections of the street façade(s) from scaffolding are performed. Roofs, terraces, and balconies are reviewed. All of the Building's appurtenances are examined - such as canopies, antennae, satellite dishes, air conditioners, and fire escapes.

Who files the FISP report and what are the different classifications used?

FISP inspection reports must be filed every five years by a Registered Architect (RA) or Professional Engineer (PE). The condition of the Building is classified as Safe, Safe with Repair and Maintenance Items (SWARMP), or Unsafe. A Safe building needs no further action, a building that is Safe With Repair And Maintenance Items (SWARMP) must be repaired in the time frame listed by the Engineer or Architect in the report, and an Unsafe building must provide immediate protection of the public and be repaired within 30 days.

What are examples of unsafe exterior conditions?

Any item that jeopardizes safety of pedestrians below is an unsafe condition. Examples include loose brickwork, mortar, or concrete; leaning parapet walls, cracked or broken windows, fractured terracotta, loose metal, improperly secured window-mounted air conditioners and any loose material, such as wood, bricks, debris, planters and the like. The law requires that unsafe conditions be addressed immediately, within a 30-day time frame and subsequently an amended report filed with the DOB to confirm the conditions have been addressed. An extension may be given for the unsafe conditions to be corrected if needed.

Is our building required to file if the Certificate of Occupancy says it is six stories plus cellar?

The Owner is required to have a professional Architect or Engineer inspect the property and determine whether the building is exempt or required to file a FISP report. This determination is based upon the actual height of the building and whether it is six stories with a cellar or basement. A cellar does not count as a story since more than half its height is below ground level. On the other hand, a basement counts as a story because more than half its wall height is above ground. In summary, no matter what is stated on the Certificate of Occupancy a six story building with basement is considered 7 stories and thereby is required to comply with filing a FISP Report.

How is a window-mounted air conditioners properly installed?

The improper mounting of window air conditioners is one of the items causing the DOB to reject Reports filed as "Safe" due to the fact that such air conditioners constitute a potential hazard. Window air conditioners should be securely attached from the exterior and/or interior side of the Building. It is at the discretion of the Architect or Engineer performing the inspection to decide whether such an air conditioner constitutes a potential hazard. Certainly, an air conditioner with blocks or bricks wedged in between the unit and the windowsill will be classified as an unsafe condition by the DOB, as will an air conditioner that appears unstable. Based on this however, it is difficult for an Architect or Engineer to determine the safety of window-mounted air conditioners unless checking every single unit from inside of the apartments. This though is not feasible in large Buildings due to the number of apartments and where location of the a/c units changes frequently. Therefore, until such time as the DOB issues more specific regulations, it is recommended that building owners/managers implement a policy of installing secure support brackets for window air conditioners by a qualified contractor.

Are there any fees for filing reports?

The report shall be submitted to the Department along with a filing fee as specified in the rules of the Department of Buildings as follows:

  Filing Fee
Initial Report $265
Amended/Subsequent Report $100
Extension Request $135

Furthermore, the following penalties are enforced by the Department of Buildings and apply after the filing period ends:

  Penalty
Late Filing (Initial Report) $250 per month
Failure to File (Initial Report) $1,000 per year
Failure to correct UNSAFE conditions $1,000 per month


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FISP Guardrail & Railing Regulations

Building Code Requirements

New York City Building Code requires that railings and parapets around stairwells, balconies, areaways, roofs, and other railings in similar locations shall be designed to resist the simultaneous application of a lateral force of fifty (50) pounds per linear foot (plf) and a vertical load of fifty (50) plf, both applied to the top of the railing.

FISP Requirements

All railings, handrails and guardrails must be investigated for structural safety and code compliance. Structural safety will be determined by lateral load stability, overall condition of the material, condition of connections and anchorage points. Dependent upon on the condition of the railings at the time of inspection, invasive structural testing may be required to confirm the structural stability and load capacity of the railings.

The railings must also be inspected for code compliance. This will determine if the railings were appropriate to the code at the time they were installed. Code compliance will not dictate whether railings are Unsafe unless it results in a danger to public safety. If handrails and guardrails did not conform to the applicable codes when installed, the QEWI shall notify the Owner and these items will be noted in the report. In these circumstances, the DOB requires that a course of action be implemented to bring all non-code compliant items up to code by the closure of FISP Cycle 8.

If observations reveal Unsafe conditions, all balconies, terraces, and/or exterior common areas must be VACATED until conditions are corrected and made safe.

On September 6th, 2013, the DOB issued an amendment Memo to rule RCNY §103-04, which specifically requests that balcony railings and connections be checked for structural soundness. Depending on the condition of the inspected railings, the QEWI may determine that ALL balcony railings should be checked, instead of a representative sample. Defective railings or connections may govern the status of the façade.

Visual Inspection of Balconies and Guardrail Systems

At the discretion of the QEWI, a representative sample of the total railings may be sufficient in determining the condition of the railings; however, HLZA strongly encourages full inspection so Owners can be confident their tenants' safety is assured as it is good practice and part of a recommended maintenance program for every building.

Each balcony should be inspected systematically to ensure a consistent procedure and thorough assessment. During these inspections, each railing will be visually inspected for broken or missing components, observed laxity at component connections, and any damaged or missing mechanical connection to the balcony slab and building façade. During the course of the critical examination, photographs shall be taken and/or sketches made to properly document the location of all conditions observed that are either unsafe or SWARMP.

Fire Escapes

Fire escapes must be investigated for structural safety. Structural safety will be determined by the condition of the anchorage points, overall condition of the steel, condition of the connections and of the treads. Per the building code, fire escapes must be maintained by the building owner at all times for public safety.

Balcony Enclosures

Balcony enclosures require a permit for installation. The QEWI will record all balcony enclosures at the property. If they are in danger of failure, it will be noted as an Unsafe item. Enclosures installed without a permit shall not be considered safe by the DOB. These enclosures will be either SWARMP or unsafe depending on stability of installation. Further, balcony enclosures that have been used to create habitable space shall be counted against F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio) when applying for a permit. Enclosed balconies should not have heating/cooling elements. Enclosures that make up 67% or more of the balcony perimeter also count toward F.A.R.

Additional Safety Measures

In addition to FISP, there are several other measures that can be taken in order to guarantee the safety of a building’s guardrail systems:

  • Contract an engineering entity to perform uniform and/or concentrated load tests on select areas of the guardrail system in order to determine whether or not it conforms to the current New York City building code.
  • Implement an annual routine maintenance plan in order to address potentially dangerous conditions more promptly than is required by the Local Law 11/98 program.
  • Inform tenants to pay attention to the condition of all guardrails on their respective balconies, and to promptly report any outwardly unsafe conditions to the building superintendent for immediate repair.


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