Brooklyn property owners say they’ve been blindsided by a law that requires them to have a city gas inspection by Dec. 31, or else risk being slapped with a large fine.
Local Law 152 of 2016 says most building owners and places of worship in community boards 1, 3 and 10 of all boroughs must have their gas piping systems inspected by a Licensed Master Plumber by the end of the year. Only one- and two-family homes are exempt. And those who don’t file for Inspection Certification by Dec. 31 may face a $10,000 penalty.
In Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler said property owners had been left scrambling due to receiving “literally no notification at all” from the Department of Buildings (DOB) about the upcoming deadline.
“How we found out about it was because, back in October, private plumbers started sending out notices to homeowners soliciting business, saying, ‘If you do not get this inspection done the city will fine you $10,000.'”
He said residents started calling the community board asking if it was a scam. The board contacted the DOB, which told them the plumbers were correct. “We were like, ‘Huh? When were you gonna tell us?'”
Local Law 152 was brought in after the deadly Second Avenue gas pipe explosion of 2015. The explosion was caused by an illegal gas line fitted by an unlicensed plumber.
This is the first year of the law being enforced. The DOB plans to cycle through different community district numbers each year over a four year rotation to cover the whole city.
This year, Brooklyn property owners and church, synagogue and mosque leaders in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton are under obligation. In 2021, building owners in community boards 2, 5, 7, 13 and 18 in all boroughs are up.
Butler said the board was not opposed to the law itself, but it was requesting an extension on the deadline to June 30, 2021, along with advance notification and education about which homeowners were affected. “What we are saying is that what was good in 2016 is not necessarily good in 2020.”
He said the pandemic had put property owners, as well as tenants, in precarious financial situations. When tenants lose their jobs they can’t pay rent, plus landlords themselves may have lost their jobs, and the mortgage still needs to be paid. “Now suddenly you’ve got to have to get this inspection and pay $600 to $1,000 or more — and that’s just for the inspection. Where am I gonna find this money during COVID?” Butler said.
He said in Bed-Stuy’s Community Board 3, many constituents felt “blindsided and uninformed” and saw it as “another example of City Hall trying to steal property from the Black community.”
But Department of Buildings press secretary Andrew Rudansky said the implementation details of Local Law 152 were finalized more than a year ago. He said they were “widely communicated” by the department, giving property owners over a year to complete the inspections. “Any property owner with additional questions is encouraged to reach out to us directly.”
Rudansky said, “as the deadline has gotten closer” the DOB’s community affairs teams had proactively reached out to every elected official and community board, as well as contacting industry stakeholders and publishing reminders on its website and in its newsletter.
However, Butler said Brooklyn Community Board 3 contacted the DOB first, just a couple of months ago, and it was the same situation for Brooklyn Community Board 10.
The city should give property owners a deadline extension, Paul Shay, a Licensed Master Plumber and owner of Bushwick’s A Real Good Plumber said. “I think the city should have given them three months, six months into 2021. This is COVID, this is nuts.”
Shay’s firm had been doing a number of Local Law 152 inspections and only a small percentage of those inspections had presented issues, he said. “And even most of those issues are issues we can just notify the DOB: ‘Let’s get it done over the next six months.”
While the inspections were important to ensure the 2015 incident didn’t repeat itself, Shay said he had emailed a lot of his customers about the deadline, but felt not everyone was aware. “And I think that’s a problem.”