Those of us without engineering degrees tend to take the buildings in which we live and work for granted. We simply assume that if we go indoors, the ceiling isn't going to suddenly collapse. Of course, buildings can remain upright and structurally sound with proper maintenance and upkeep. Maintaining a building sounds like common sense, but inevitably some boards avoid it.
After all, maintenance work can often be expensive and intrusive. Fortunately, we have building and safety codes to encourage regular maintenance—and protect the irresponsible and naïve from themselves. Since we're not all engineers, boards and managers need to rely on inspections and consultations to make sure their community isn't the site of an avoidable tragedy.
Thanks to one of the strictest building codes and inspection processes in the country, it's very difficult to put off maintenance in New York City. It's strict for a reason; New York is dense and full of pedestrians, making the structural integrity of commercial and residential structures a much bigger public safety issue than in a smaller, more spread-out town. Also somewhat unique to New York is the very real fear that a falling object can be fatal and make headlines. Several reforms made in recent years to the city's housing code came after well-publicized deaths of pedestrians. Back in 1980, then Mayor Ed Koch responded to such a tragedy by passing what was called Local Law 10, requiring façade inspections of any building greater than six stories. It was amended to become Local Law 11 in 1998, and still exists today but with a new name. It’s now called the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP).
The upshot is, when it comes to exterior maintenance, “The building should be up on it,” says Ryan Hopewell, a project engineer for Stone Engineering in Long Island City.
In most parts of the country, particularly outside major cities, most building codes come into play after a natural disaster, renovation, or system replacement. In order to get the permits to building something new, engineers will first check what's old and needs work. But in New York City, it's a whole different ball game.