The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Housing and Buildings of the New York City Council on Intro 354, Intro 1127, Intro 1366, Intro 1635, Intro 1667, and Intro 1737

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The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY thanks the Committee for the opportunity to testify on this important package of legislation impacting construction, the environment and our streetscapes. 

New Yorkers’ health, safety and quality of life are paramount. In our ever-changing cityscape, it is essential we remain diligent in reviewing and updating the safeguards surrounding construction, not only for the protection of workers and public safety, but also for the well-being and livability of our neighborhoods.

In considering any proposed changes to safety regulations, we encourage the Council to consult with industry stakeholders and discuss with the appropriate regulatory agencies how the changes speak to the existing requirements as well as to consider practical obstacles to their implementation. While today’s committee agenda includes some reasonable policy ideas, REBNY believes a number of bills are not clearly defined and appear to overreach with no tangible benefit to our City. This includes Intro 1737, which would create significant harm to our City’s current economic recovery.

What follows are more specific comments to the Introductions being heard today. 

BILL: Intro 1737-2019

SUBJECT: After hours work authorization.

SPONSORS: Council Members Rivera, Powers, Chin, Holden, Kallos, Adams, Lander, Rodriguez, Reynoso, Menchaca, Van Bramer and Levin 

Intro 1737-2019 would amend various aspects of the process for issuing an after-hours variance (AHV). It would provide that an AHV issued for public safety purposes expire 15 days after issuance; that an AHV only be issued for the hours of 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and for the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends; limit the number of days for an AHV application request it to 3 weekdays per week, one Saturday or one Sunday per week and not include any holiday on which alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended; require the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue a written explanation for its decisions on whether to issue an AHV; and require the DEP to issue an annual report to the Council including data on the administration of the AHV process.

REBNY is strongly opposed to this legislation as it would make construction projects less safe and harm our economic recovery.

In New York City, particularly Manhattan, construction safety plans and logistics requirements are incredibly complex and important. With crowded streets, tight spaces, and adjacent properties to accommodate, it is often a necessity that some essential, critical-path construction tasks are completed during off-peak, after-hour times. This could include the utilization of heavy equipment such as a crane, delivery of substantial materials or street and sidewalk work. In the case of work being done on occupied buildings, work must, in many cases, be conducted outside of normal operating hours for the protection of tenants. Limiting AHVs only exacerbates these challenges by putting unnecessary constraints on sites, compromising safety while simultaneously making essential jobs more costly and time intensive.

In addition, restricting AHVs in this way would delay projects, lengthening their time to completion and adding cost that would jeopardize jobs. It is not an exaggeration to say that this legislation would impose millions of dollars in added costs to projects, reducing the number and quality of jobs and stifling growth.

As we work to build our way out of the pandemic to a more equitable city, we need to protect and grow jobs that provide opportunities for New Yorkers. This legislation would have the opposite effect and could potentially pose risks to existing construction jobs, including highly skilled, unionized construction jobs.

REBNY supports a city where all New Yorkers can enjoy a good quality of life, and to do so, the City must understand how New Yorkers are living.  As a result of the pandemic, more workers are spending time at home and telecommuting. This change in work dynamic makes the idea of limiting after-hour variances to specific hours and days even less sensible. To better support quality of life, the City should enforce its existing local laws that protect against noise pollution. 

Proponents of this legislation contend that it is necessary to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods where construction is occurring. This is not supported by data. Even prior to the passage of the noise level restrictions, the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) tracked AHVs and noise complaints, and the data shows that 95% of projects issued an AHV do not receive any noise complaints, and projects that do have a median number of just one complaint. 

Furthermore, numerous measures have already been put in place to protect nearby residents from construction noise. For instance, on January 18, 2018, Mayor de Blasio signed into law new construction noise mitigation requirements. The allowable construction noise levels were amended by this legislation to specifically address construction noise from after-hours work.  If contractors violate those noise standards, DEP can issue a stop work order.  The new allowable noise levels took effect in January 2020. Given the pandemic-related changes this past year, there has not been an opportunity to assess the effect of the 2018 law.  It is premature to pass a legislation for an issue that may already have been resolved by prior legislation.   

Moreover, the previous mayoral administration signed Local Law 113, the New York City Noise Code, to establish updated standards to reduce noise, including setting decibel (dB) level thresholds. The 2005 law mandated that DEP adopt rules mitigating construction noise and required the development of Construction Noise Mitigation Plans.

If the goal of this legislation is to improve quality of life by mitigating noise, REBNY encourages Council to review the existing statutes that serve that end and look for ways to strengthen their enforcement rather than adopting a new regulation that would decimate sorely needed economic development and job growth.

If the Council is serious about New York’s economic recovery, they will ensure that this bill does not move forward. 

BILL: Intro 354-2018

SUBJECT: Penalties for the unauthorized alteration or demolition of premises calendared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

SPONSORS: Council Members Rosenthal, Salamanca, and Holden

Intro 354-2018 would increase the civil and criminal penalties for demolishing or altering a building without a Department of Buildings-issued permit when such building is calendared for consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The civil penalty would be increased to not less than $25,000 and not more than $50,000. The criminal penalty would be increased to an amount not more than $50,000.

REBNY is unaware of any instances in recent decades where there have been issues of LPC calendared properties being drastically altered or demolished. While the importance of ensuring that landmarks across the city are rightfully protected where appropriate is appreciated and understood, REBNY fails to see a need for this legislation. 

The penalties that Intro 354-2018 proposes appear to be duplicative and punitive. Owners are already subject to DOB fines for work that is done without a permit, and the additional fines that would be imposed under this bill are higher than those for any work that creates an immediately hazardous condition. Civil penalties for immediately hazardous work done without a permit range from $1,000 to no more than $25,000, where this bill would impose a fine of not less than $25,000 and no more than $50,000. Fines for compliance under Intro 354-2018 should better fit contextually with the most serious of safety violations. 

REBNY also believes that this legislation needs to further distinguish between alteration work that is minor and could be remedied, such as the removal of a cornice, and work that cannot be remedied, such as a demolition. Doing so would allow for appropriate work to continue to promote building maintenance, building safety, and for owners to avoid punitive penalties where there is no pernicious intent. 

BILL: Intro 1127-2018

SUBJECT: Expediting Department of Buildings permits. 

SPONSORS: Council Members Holden, Borelli, Brannan, Ulrich, Yeger, Gjonaj, Rodriguez, Koo, and Dromm 

Intro 1127-2018 would require the DOB to expedite work permits where additional permits are required by DOB to proceed with ongoing work and would also require DOB to expedite amendments to permit applications.

REBNY supports this legislation. While DOB generally operates efficiently, the expedient approval of permit applications and amended permit applications would be a welcome reform that could have tremendous impacts on construction and economic development in our City. With this said, we encourage the Council and DOB to identify whether any additional resources would be needed to help facilitate quicker permitting approvals as required by this legislation. 

While the enactment of this legislation is welcome, REBNY looks forward to any additional opportunities to discuss funding and reforms to additional permitting and inspection processes, particularly with the FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Prevention. Such reforms are critical to economic activity in our City. Intro 1127-2018 is a good and proactive first step. 

BILL: Intro 1366-2019

SUBJECT: Requiring certain insurance filings with the Department of Buildings.

SPONSORS: Council Members Moya and Holden

Intro 1366-2019 would require the Department of Buildings to collect and maintain information regarding insurance coverage provided at construction sites in a public, online database.

REBNY shares the Council’s prioritization of ensuring construction sites are safe, which includes holding unscrupulous contractors accountable. However, REBNY questions what problem this legislation is working to solve and why this information needs to be made public.

DOB already requires as a prerequisite for pulling permits that contractors provide proof of insurance and that insurance requirements have been met relative to a job site. Insurance requirements are determined by permit type, height and number of stories of adjacent buildings, and the height and number of stories of the proposed construction. 

REBNY is concerned that making sensitive insurance information public via a database raises serious privacy concerns that ultimately could impact insurance premiums. Insuring construction sites, particularly in New York City, is incredibly complex and expensive. Existing statutes already incentivize contractors to do everything possible to alleviate risk to keep premiums affordable. In today’s industry, most if not all large general contractors or construction managers carry substantial insurance policies and require that their subcontractors also be covered under their umbrella policy, or that they be bonded. For a contractor or subcontractor to not do so would substantially limit, if not entirely prevent, their ability to do legitimate work in our City. 

BILL: Intro 1635-2019

SUBJECT: Display of artwork on temporary protective structures on construction sites.

SPONSORS: Council Members Cumbo and Brannan

Intro 1635-2019 would require the Public Design Commission to solicit works of art from the public, and in consultation with the Department of Buildings and the Department of Cultural Affairs, at least annually approve four such works of art for display on temporary protective structures at construction sites. It would also authorize the installation of such artwork on temporary protective structures on or over City-owned buildings, sidewalks and streets.

As this legislation is permissive and not mandatory, REBNY supports this legislation. Opportunities for the installation of public art, particularly around construction sites in which temporary protection, scaffold or walkways may be present, could provide positive improvements to our streetscape. REBNY looks forward to discussing this bill further with the Council. 

BILL: Intro 1667-2019 

SUBJECT: Requiring contractors and the department of buildings to make information regarding environmental monitoring of construction work publicly available.

SPONSORS: Council Members Levin and Kallos 

Intro 1667-2019 would require contractors to report information on environmental monitoring of construction or demolition work to the Department of Buildings and the Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, contractors would be required to post contact information at the site of construction or demolition work. This bill would also require the Department of Buildings to post the environmental monitoring information on its website.

DOB and DEP rules and regulations already require contractors and owners to undertake substantial monitoring and prevention efforts to mitigate noise and air pollution. This includes comprehensive opportunities for the public reporting of nuisances surrounding job sites. As a result, REBNY questions how establishing the proposed series of reports and filings will create any tangible benefit without being prohibitively costly and burdensome to private contractors. 

Before enacting this legislation, REBNY encourages the Council to first study DOB and DEP data surrounding monitoring requirements to see if existing requirements already provide access to the data that is being sought through Intro 1667-2019. 

Thank you for the consideration of these points.