New York

Legislators scrutinize the state’s role in overseeing building

ALBANNY — Poor enforcement of building codes has had tragic consequences in New York, according to advocates for local inspectors.

“Most local governments see law enforcement as the grass and trash police,” said Stephen McDaniel, chairman of the International Standards Council’s Building Standards Board and chief standards enforcer for the City of Corning. says.

McDaniel testified before a panel of state legislators and suggested that one way to ensure law enforcement services could provide adequate protection was to set minimum personnel levels.

“It’s not done now, but maybe it can be done to stop one man or one woman from sharing eight or 12 different jurisdictions,” he said. “You’re not getting proper code enforcement. We can all agree on that.”

McDaniel also suggested taking steps to set minimum credentials for building inspectors.

“Make it a real profession,” he said. He said that while New York requires hairdressers to be overseen by the state’s Occupational Office, law enforcement is not subject to the same level of regulation.

The State Legislative Committee on Government Operations, led by Rep. Kenneth Zebrowski of D-Rockland County, is investigating the administration of building code enforcement. Building inspections are a service provided by local governments, but the Department of State, through its Division of Building Standards and Codes, plays an oversight role.

How well building codes are applied can have a significant impact on the quality of life in a community.

“This may seem a dry issue on paper, but when we talk about how it affects our community, it’s nothing,” Zebrowski said.

“The enforcement or lack thereof of our building codes, landlord actions and tenant actions can lead to very dangerous situations for citizens and tenants and first responders called upon in an emergency. Said.

The adequacy of building code enforcement has been a concern of legislators for several years.

In 2019, the state’s Senate Commission of Inquiry produced a report that concluded that the local building department was not receiving the resources and support it needed from New York State.

The commission noted that fire insurance premiums collected by insurance companies were at one point distributed to law enforcement agencies to assist them in their mission, but ultimately flowed into the state general fund. discovered.

“The suspension of the distribution of these funds demonstrates a disregard for law enforcement at the state level despite a clear need,” the report bluntly states.

At a hearing held this week, Zebrowski said the Office of the Secretary of State, an agency controlled by Gov. Kathy Hochol, did not send a representative. Zebrowski said he believed authorities would provide written testimony at a later date.

David Cagle, supervising attorney for the Western New York Department of Justice, said in testimony that the Office of the Secretary of State has neglected its responsibility to set minimum standards for building code enforcement.

He lamented that sometimes low-income tenants are losing their homes after asking the local building inspector to check the condition of the rental units.

Since the Secretary of State has not issued minimum enforcement standards, building inspectors may denounce the building in question instead of seeking a court order requiring the owner to make repairs, and tenants will be required to comply with the law. Kagle said they were being evicted from their homes without proper formalities. .

Mr. Kagle recently attended a tenant legal advocacy meeting and learned that a colleague had experienced similar consequences damaging tenants who complained about the unsafe condition of their apartments.

After filing the complaint, the attorney added, “the tenants are likely to end up homeless.” “That’s not what we’re going for. We’re sending it in for repair.” Legislators scrutinize the state’s role in overseeing building

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