We all know what happens to our bodies as they age: things shift, material consistencies change, and gravity begins to assert itself. The same is true of the buildings we live in. As time marches on, brick and mortar deteriorate under environmental pressures and everyday wear and tear, sometimes turning a beautiful old prewar building into a hulking menace. After a passing pedestrian was killed in 1980 by a chunk of masonry that had come loose and fallen off an older Manhattan building, New York City enacted Local Law 10. The measure mandated that all buildings over a certain age and height must be inspected regularly for potentially dangerous deterioration. Local Law 10 was on the books until 1998, when it was updated, tightened up, and re-christened Local Law 11.
Old vs. New
Local Law 10 mandated that all buildings greater than six stories in height had to have their exterior walls examined under the supervision of a licensed architect or engineer every five years. There was a two-year window to correct any structural problems found and to file all the necessary reports. Exterior walls set back more than 25 feet from the street were exempt from this inspection, as were walls above the sixth story set back more than 25 feet from the wall below. Also excluded were exterior walls more than 25 feet from a paved walkway running at right angles to the building’s walls and used as occupant or service outlets. Paved pedestrian walkways, plazas, and play areas used by the public were also exempt.
After the examination, the architect or engineer submitted a written "Critical Examination Report" to the Department of Buildings (DOB) categorizing any observed deficiencies as either "unsafe" or "precautionary." An unsafe condition as defined by the DOB was dangerous to the public or property and required immediate remedial action. Unsafe conditions were to be corrected within 30 days of filing the Critical Examination Report. By contrast, a precautionary condition was defined as a condition that–if not treated–could degrade into an unsafe condition. Under Local Law 10, the building owner was responsible for ensuring that precautionary conditions were closely monitored and/or repaired, and did not deteriorate into unsafe conditions before the next inspection cycle.
Those who did not comply with the provisions of Local Law 10 faced fines of up to $1,000 and/or six months imprisonment, in addition to being charged $250 for every month of non-compliance.