New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Crain's New York Facade safety crackdown could boost sidewalk-shed reform bill by Ryan Deffenbaugh

Facade safety crackdown could boost sidewalk-shed reform bill

Buck Ennis

Debris fell last month from 729 Seventh Ave. and stuck and killed a woman. 

An Upper East Side councilman continues to push for limiting scaffolding as the city doubles down on sidewalk sheds after an architect's death from falling facade.

Department of Buildings officials pledged to hold building-owners "feet to the fire" after designer Erica Tishman was killed by a falling chunk of debris in Times Square last month. 

Councilman Ben Kallos praised the department's actions but warned against reliance on scaffolding.

"Ultimately the solution isn't just to put sidewalk sheds everywhere," Kallos said. "We need to get to a place where folks are actually doing the work to maintain their buildings."

The city last week began issuing emergency notices to buildings with violations for unsafe facades that had not yet put in place protective sidewalk sheds. The notices—which came one month after Tishman's death—gave the owners days to put up scaffolding, or risk the city send its own contractors to put up sheds at the landlord's expense. 

The Manhattan Democrat's remarks will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed reporting on the scaffolding issue in the past half-decade. Crain's quoted him in 2016 bemoaning how some sidewalk sheds defy "laws of nature" by never coming down. 

The councilman has filed several bills in the past four years to rein in sidewalk sheds, which darken about 300 miles of city sidewalks in front of unsafe buildings and construction zones. 

A 2017 analysis by the DOB found that buildings with an unsafe facade represent about a quarter of the roughly 7,800 scaffold permits active in the city. 

As Crain's has previously reported, building owners sometimes find it cheaper to rent a sidewalk shed than to pay for renovations, leaving some hanging around for years

The most recent version of Kallos' bill would give owners of buildings with unsafe facades 180 days to complete repairs. After that, the city would complete the repairs at the owner's expense. 

The bill has the support of Bed-Stuy Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., who is chair of the Housing and Building Committee. But the proposal is still yet to receive a hearing. 

Kallos previously told the New York Post that "overwhelming opposition by the real estate industry" was holding back the legislation, but he said Tuesday that he is working with industry representatives to address any remaining concerns. 

He pointed to the recent crackdown on unsafe facades as evidence the bill has merit. 

"With the Department of Buildings implementing parts of this legislation, it seems like it may have a smooth path forward," Kallos said. "The piece that folks are very cautious about is that we want to get the work done. We want to get the sidewalk sheds down, but we want to do it in a way that keeps people safe."

Kallos has also put legislation forward that would require the DOB to inspect scaffolding every six months, and bill the owner for the inspection. 

The buildings department has pledged it will follow up every 90 days with owners of the roughly 1,300 buildings with outstanding facade safety violations. 

Owners that haven't started repairs within 180 days will face "additional enforcement actions," according to the notice. A buildings department spokesman did not immediately respond to a question from Crain's about whether than enforcement could include sending city contractors to make the fix.

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