Council’s gas safety bills important, but need improvement

The New York City Council recently introduced a series of bills to promote gas safety. The bills would institute an inspection schedule for gas piping systems, provide an amnesty program for non-compliant systems, and require natural gas detectors in residential buildings.

They also address many other areas of gas regulation and aim to ensure the safety of New Yorkers. The legislation is intended to prevent unfortunate and tragic incidents such as the recent explosions in East Harlem and the East Village.

However, although the bills are well-conceived, they are not without areas for improvement. Many members of our industry testified at the hearing and expressed concerns with the bill’s vague standards for gas pipe inspection, dependence on the relatively new gas detection technologies, and the significant workload increases for the Department of Buildings (DOB), citing some of the bills being unnecessarily repetitive or impractical. DOB Commissioner Rick Chandler, also testified at the hearing, and shared his misgivings for the overly broad scope of the legislation.

REBNY mirrored many of these concerns in our own memo, which can be found at www.rebny.com. One bill would require building owners with gas piping systems to undergo visual inspections once every four years, another would create a journeyman plumber gas qualification system, and another would require natural gas detectors despite the relevant technology still being in its early stages of optimization.

Currently, there are no regulated timely inspections on gas systems once they are installed, making them an outlier among other systems such as boilers, elevators, water tanks, and water recycling systems. The bill calls for visual inspections – specifically citing deteriorating pipes and atmospheric corrosion – however, visual inspections might not necessarily capture all possible hazards.

Further, if a defect is found, the bill requires the condition to be remedied, but does not give details on how building code compliance will be determined. This lack of such guidelines could result in gas being unnecessarily shut off and tenants finding themselves without gas for an unpredictable amount of time.

The proposed qualification system for journeyman plumbers would prevent them from working on gas piping systems without first fulfilling at least 200 hours of supervision under licensed master plumbers.

This could stretch the ranks of licensed master plumbers across a much larger number of projects. Over time, this increased workload dispersed over fewer workers may result in a backlog, making it more difficult to comply with the schedules provided for in this legislative package.

REBNY appreciates the Council’s continued efforts to improve public safety, but we believe that these bills need further consideration and should reflect the concerns of our real estate industry experts. We gladly offer our support in any way possible in this endeavor, and look forward to seeing these pieces of legislation have a positive impact on New York’s residents and workers going forward.

In Memoriam:

We send our deepest condolences to the family and colleagues of Oskar Brecher who passed away suddenly this week. Oksar served as Executive Vice President / Director of Development of The Moinian Group where he led the master planning and execution of new ground-up development projects in Moinian’s portfolio. He will be fondly remembered for his dedication and kindheartedness. The funeral service will be held this Wednesday, April 20th at 9:30am at Temple Israel of the City of New York (112 East 75th Street).