Brennan Announces Legislative Package to Address Shortcomings in Regulation of Construction and Development in New York City.
Assemblymember James Brennan (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Cities Committee, has introduced a package of legislation designed to address shortcomings in the regulation of construction and development in New York City, following public hearings held in September and November 2006 by the State Assembly’s Standing Committees on Cities, Housing and Codes. This legislation is being introduced at the State level because the health and safety of the population of NYC is a matter of important State concern.
Brennan’s legislation will tighten enforcement of the NYC Building Code and Zoning Resolution during one of the largest and longest building booms in New York City’s history, with residential building permits surging from 5,135 in 1995 to 15,050 in 2000 to 31,600 in 2006. While the current real estate boom provides much-needed housing stock and construction jobs, the enormous profits to be made in the real estate market are a powerful incentive to build quickly and large – leading some to skirt the laws that guarantee safe and sound construction and appropriate neighborhood density through zoning protection.
A 2004 New York City Comptroller’s audit found that 51% of sampled building violations in 2002 were issued for hazardous violations and that there was no systematic Department of Buildings (DOB) process for following up on hazardous violations. OSHA reported 80 deaths from New York City construction accidents between 2002 and 2005. A 2002 review by the NY Trial Lawyers Institute of 2,500 OSHA construction-site inspections found one or more serious safety violations at 2/3 of the sites. A 2003 NYC Comptroller’s audit found errors in 67% of sampled self-certified construction plans. And in 2005, the DOB’s own mandated audits of a fifth of all self-certified plans found 16% of them contained such serious errors that building permits had to be revoked.
The legislative package includes the following seven bills:
• A7745(Brennan)/S5422(Padavan), The Department of Buildings Community Accountability Act, directs DOB to notify community boards and borough presidents of all construction permits and DOB actions in the district; requires DOB to file public reports on all construction accidents, property damage and dangerous buildings conditions resulting from building code violations; prohibits issuance of certificates of occupancy until all adjudicated fines and penalties are paid; and gives community boards the right to request 30 DOB audits annually and receive copies of any requested plans within 5 days.
• A7800(Brennan)/S5223(Padavan), requires timely re-inspection and correction of all hazardous building violations issued by the DOB.
• A7755(Hevesi)/S5407(Padavan), converts into tax liens any unpaid, adjudicated fines levied for hazardous building violations.
• A7746(Brennan)/S4603(Padavan), gives the DOB the power to refuse to accept the filing of any documents by a person who, following a hearing, has been found to have knowingly or negligently submitted false documents to the Department of Buildings, thus expanding the Department’s arsenal for curbing abuse of self-certification privileges. This bill is supported by the office of the Mayor.
• A7744(Brennan)/S5410(Padavan), requires, for the first time, City licensure of general contractors by a Contractors Licensing Board, composed of 13 members appointed by the Mayor. This will allow the City to revoke the licenses of developer-contractors who are willful violators of laws involving safety, workers’ compensation, etc.
• A7748(Brennan)/S5246(Padavan), holds contractors liable for any damage caused by excavation. Currently contractors are not liable for damage to adjacent properties caused by excavation less than 10 feet in depth. This bill eliminates that exemption and in addition requires contractors to carry liability insurance to compensate neighbors for damages caused by excavation. This bill is supported by the office of the Mayor.
• A7747(Brennan)/S5441(Padavan), funds technical assistance grants of $500,000 to a not-for-profit organization in each borough to provide legal, technical and professional assistance in the public interest regarding zoning, planning, and building and construction issues.