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How can I check if my NYC apartment building is fire-code compliant?

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Question:

In light of the terrible December 28th fire in the Bronx that killed 13 people, I'm concerned about the safety of the tenement-style apartment building where I live. How can I make sure my building is up to code?

Answer:

Your first instinct may be to check with the city, but you are probably better off hiring an architect or engineer to confirm that your building is up to code, according to our experts

"Many of our clients think, 'Well, I'll just call the Department of Buildings,' but the problem is if they see a serious violation, they're going to slap a vacate order on the building," says Sam Himmelstein, a partner with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph LLP (a Brick sponsor, FYI).

Major violations might include a building lacking sprinklers, fire escapes in poor condition, and blocked exits. You can peruse the city fire code in its entirety here

Rather than contacting the DOB, "hire an architect or engineer who is knowledgeable regarding the applicable codes and... have that consultant inspect the building," says Jeffrey Reich, partner at the law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas LLP. "In addition to confirming compliance with fire codes, it would be a good idea to confirm compliance with all applicable electrical codes and building codes. Even after taking such steps, a building resident may have no way of confirming whether neighboring buildings are in compliance with code." 

If you're a co-op or condo owner, it's on the board to ensure fire safety. 

"The building is responsible for keeping it up to date, fire-code-wise," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "In fact, to get insurance, they need to have done inspections and updates if needed."

As for insurance, if you find that your building is not fireproof, meaning it wasn't built with a specific set of modern, non-combustible materials, as was the case in the Bronx building that burned recently, it could raise your rates by up to 10 percent, says Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor). 

"But fires do happen in fire-resistant high rises," he adds. "They are just more likely to stay contained." 


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