A Little-Known Law Could Have Major Effect on Small Property Owners Across Brooklyn

A Little-Known Law Could Have Major Effect on Small Property Owners Across Brooklyn
Residential gas meters in Brooklyn.

Property owners in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, began receiving notices from plumbers last month warning them they might be fined $10,000 by the city.

“They were receiving notices from plumbers, stating that if they don’t get a gas line inspection done, the city will fine them $10,000,” said Henry Butler, Community Board 3 district manager. “Residents started calling the Community Board wanting to know if this was a scam.”

It was not. In 2016, in response to two gas explosions, New York City passed Local Law 152, requiring owners of commercial or residential buildings of three or more families to have exposed gas piping in their buildings inspected by a licensed master plumber.

Each community district has a different deadline. Each borough’s Community Districts 1, 3, and 10 are first, and property owners must comply by Dec. 31 or face a $10,000 fine. Approximately 82,000 buildings in New York City must submit Local Law 152 plumbing inspection reports by the December deadline.

Alex Lewis, a master plumber at Stanley Lewis Plumbing and Heating in Crown Heights, said property owners were reaching out to him nonstop. “Last week, the phone was ringing off the hook,” he said. “I think COVID made everything take a back burner.”

Andrew Rudansky, the press secretary for the city’s Department of Buildings, said the city notified important stakeholders about the law. “These rules went into effect in October 2019, giving property owners over a year to complete the inspections,” said Rudansky.

Richard Flateau, a real estate broker who is chairman of Community Board 3, said that as a property owner subject to the law, he was not notified by the Department of Buildings. He only learned about the law when other property owners called the community board.

“We had two virtual town hall meetings with the buildings department,” Flateau said. “We actually reached out to them because we were very concerned that it was very poor notification and that it would have a seriously adverse impact on small-property owners and houses of worship.”

On Oct. 27, Community Board 3 held its first virtual town hall on the law. Damaris Falero, the buildings department’s community board liaison, acknowledged that the pandemic caused communication challenges. “Obviously, we are in the middle of a pandemic,” she said, “So, there’s no physical outreach that has been done.”

Rudansky said that physical outreach was always limited because of the city’s high number of property owners. “There are over one million buildings in New York City,” he said in a statement. “We issue multiple service notices each month. We do not mail physical copies of each service notice to every building in the city.”

Instead, the Department of Buildings notified the public through its newsletter.

At a second town hall on Nov. 12, Flateau said not many people were aware of the newsletter. “There should be some direct method of outreach to reach owners,” he said.

After the first town hall, Cynthia Doris Pinn, the chair of Community Board 3’s housing and land-use committee, said she went to the buildings department website to find the newsletter. “I spent a bit of time going through their website,” said Pinn, 79. “ I haven’t found it yet.”

Butler said he worries that the law could threaten small-property owners who are financially compromised by the pandemic and have limited disposable income. “A lot of people aren’t paying their rent at this time, which is jeopardizing a lot of homeowners and their mortgages,” he said.

Community Board 3 is asking the city to postpone the deadline. City Councilman Robert Cornegy of Bedford-Stuyvesant introduced legislation at the city council on Nov. 19th to postpone the deadline, said his communications director, Ean Fullerton. However, there is no guarantee that the bill will be passed before the end of the year.

Property owners with questions about Local Law 152 should reach out to the Department of Buildings directly.