How HPD Proposes to Target Buildings for Self-Closing Door Inspections
Is your building likely to be one of the 300 buildings inspected annually?
Part of the legislation that was passed in response to the January 2022 Twin Parks high-rise fire in the Bronx required the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to propose rules relating to inspections of self-closing doors in multiple dwelling buildings.
The fire killed 17 people including eight children in what is the city’s largest loss of life from a single fire in 30 years. According to investigators, a malfunctioning electric space heater that ignited a mattress caused the fire. However, the victims died of smoke inhalation and not the fire itself. Heavy smoke had quickly spread from the unit’s open door to the rest of the building, impeding other residents’ ability to escape. Investigators believe that deadly smoke was able to spread to the upper floors of the 19-story building because of faulty self-closing doors.
To help prevent future deaths from smoke inhalation, the City Council passed legislation requiring inspections for self-closing doors. It added a targeted inspection component to already established self-closing door requirements. Local Law 111 of 2018 requires that doors providing access to stairs or interior corridors in multiple dwelling buildings have a self-closing apparatus. Failure to provide a functioning self-closing door is considered an “immediately hazardous” violation, which owners have two weeks to correct.
HPD recently proposed rules including selection criteria for buildings to be included in an annual self-closing door inspection program in accordance with Local Law 71 of 2022. Local Law 71’s intent is to identify higher risk buildings, like Twin Parks, and have HPD select 300 buildings annually for inspection for self-closing door compliance. We’ll go over the proposed criteria for selecting these buildings.
According to HPD, the proposed criteria are based on the connection between the conditions described in the criteria and the potential for a fire safety hazard to be created. In buildings that potentially have such hazards, a non-functioning self-closing door may result in serious harm, and repeated heat complaints may indicate conditions that may cause tenants to use heaters that could cause a fire.
Each building selected by HPD must have more than six dwelling units and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- At least one complaint on record with HPD for self-closing doors within three years prior to selection;
- More than five heat complaints on record with HPD in each of the three heat seasons prior to selection;
- At least one fire-safety related violation issued by the DOB within the three years prior to selection; and
- No annual boiler report filed with the Department of Buildings, where applicable, within the three years prior to selection.
In addition, from the group of buildings meeting the above criteria, HPD says it will prioritize buildings constructed before 1999 and will further prioritize selection of buildings in consultation with the FDNY.
Once selected, HPD will send a notice to the owner informing them of the selection of the building, and the requirement that “self-closing doors must be maintained and kept in good repair.” As of now, there are no details on the inspection process once you’re included in the program.
Collaboration with FDNY. One noteworthy aspect of the proposed rule is that it involves data and collaboration between multiple city agencies such as HPD, DOB, and the FDNY. For example, one criterion hinges on already-required annual boiler filings from the DOB. And particularly with fire safety initiatives in the aftermath of the Twin Peaks fire, this type of collaboration has been mandated.
Last year, Mayor Adams signed an executive order to increase coordination between FDNY and HPD to identify safety violations earlier. HPD inspectors now look for compliance with FDNY’s requirement that the Fire Safety Notice is posted on the apartment’s entrance door. And HPD communicates information about lack of this signage to FDNY and to the owner of the building. It may be the case that future fire safety rules will continue this cross-agency trend.
The law specifically carves out buildings that are in HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program or that are the subject of a court order requiring an administrator to take control of the building to make necessary repairs from being included in HPD’s annual list because these buildings will already be inspected for safety hazards. Specifically, the annual inspection program won’t include the following buildings:
- Buildings that are “currently the subject of a court order appointing or a proceeding brought by the Department seeking the appointment of an administrator pursuant to article 7-A of the real property actions and proceedings law”;
- Buildings that have been included “in the alternative enforcement program pursuant to section 27-2153 of the administrative code and [have] not been discharged from such program”;
- Buildings that are currently active in and subject of an order under the Underlying Conditions Program;
- Buildings that have been inspected by HPD “under the annual self-closing door inspection program provided in these rules within the last five years”; and
- Buildings that have “had an inspection of a public part, as defined in administrative code §27-2004(20), by the Department within the three years preceding selection for inspection, including, but not limited to, such inspections conducted by specialized enforcement program units within the Department.”