Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP)

HLZA has supported our clients in staying in compliance with Façade Safety requirements since 1982.

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. A Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI), who must be a licensed Registered Architect or Professional Engineer, must conduct this inspection and submit an acceptable Report to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) summarizing the building’s conditions.

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 resource for FISP compliance. We have established a close professional relationship with the Local Law & Façades Unit of the 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 8), HLZA prepared and submitted over five hundred FISP reports.

Over the past 40 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

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 “close-up” 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. For a limited period of time during the 8th Cycle, the FISP reports were required to provide permits for all greenhouses, sunrooms and balcony/terrace enclosures to ensure they were legalized at the time of installation. The DOB has since rescinded this requirement; however the QEWI is still expected to inspect and determine if the enclosures are structurally stable and state this in the FISP 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 9th Cycle

Until the 7th Cycle, 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.


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DOB NOW: Safety

As of September 12, 2016, all FISP reports are to be submitted electronically through the DOB NOW system. The QEWI is required to upload the report into the DOB NOW: Safety system and the Owner must register an email address through the DOB’s e-filing system to sign electronically the TR-6 form. The Owner can log into the DOB NOW: Safety website and see the current status of the report –whether in review, rejected, accepted, etc.-- as well as download the report content at any time. Additionally, the Owner receives an email notification when the report has been submitted and accepted or rejected by the DOB.

The DOB NOW: Safety system also has resources available to QEWI’s and Owners for electronic submissions, such as Partial Shed Removal Requests (PSR), Extension of Time Requests for Unsafe Buildings (FISP1 & 2), and other documents relevant to façades. While most of these requests must be initiated by the QEWI, the building has access to these documents through the website.


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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:

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

If a building misses an inspection cycle, and/or a report has not been filed by the deadline, the DOB may issue a Failure to File violation. Once the report has been filed, the DOB will then retroactively issue a base penalty of $250 per month accumulating from the deadline to the date the report was filed, plus a potential violation with a penalty of up to $1,000 for failure to file.


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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 visually 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.

How long after the FISP inspection does the report have to be filed?

Façade inspection reports must be filed no later than 60 days after the QEWI conducts the final inspection and no later than one year after the close up inspection. Building owners need to promptly approve the provided draft, login to the DOB NOW, and sign the report for timely filing with the DOB to avoid the need for re-inspection.

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) who has been determined by the Department of Buildings (DOB) to be a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector. This means that the DOB has determined that the professional has enough relevant experience to make a correct assessment of the conditions of a building. 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 (SWARMP) has conditions that must be repaired between one year and five years following the time frame listed by the Engineer or Architect in the report, and an Unsafe building has conditions that must be repaired immediately or within one year and 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, cracked or fractured terracotta, loose metal, improperly secured window-mounted air conditioners and any loose material, such as wood, bricks, debris, planters and the like. If a Building has not completed its SWARMP repairs from the previous cycle in the timeframe allotted, the building is considered to be Unsafe, regardless of the severity of the conditions. 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.

Are there building materials that the DOB is specifically concerned with?

Currently, the Department of Buildings is scrutinizing terra cotta, as there have been several failures of deteriorated units and previous repairs. Additionally, cavity wall assembly is being carefully reviewed as cavity wall tie backs have been found to be deteriorated and, in some instances, completely missing. Additionally, in new buildings, there have been instances of spontaneous glass breakage due to nickle sulfide inclusions in tempered glass. Any of these types of building assemblies may require further investigation to provide the Buildings Department with information to prove the building is Safe.

What’s the difference between an Amended Report and a Subsequent Report?

An Amended Report changes the status of a previously filed Unsafe Report to SWARMP or Safe. A Subsequent Report changes the status of a previously filed SWARMP report to Safe. A Building’s classification cannot remain unsafe until the next cycle, therefore an Amended Report must be filed after the repairs have been completed. A Subsequent Report is optional but can only be filed during the current open cycle. A Subsequent Safe report cannot be filed after the next filing cycle opens. An Amended Report can be filed at any time, regardless of the timeframe.

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

The Owner is required to have the Department of Buildings 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. An Owner can request a Height Verification Request through the DOB NOW: Safety website.

When is a window-mounted air conditioners considered 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 QEWI 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 a QEWI 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. See filing fees and penalties listed above.


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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 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 the next FISP Cycle.

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 residents’ 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 and occupant safety.

Balcony Enclosures

The QEWI will inspect balcony enclosures at the property. Enclosures will be classified as either safe or unsafe depending on stability of installation. If they are in danger of failure or are structurally unstable, it will be noted as an Unsafe item.

Balcony enclosures require a permit for installation. 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 inspections, 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 FISP 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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