Building owners in the City of Philadelphia had better start paying closer attention to what’s on the outside. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an ordinance — Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances of Buildings — amending the City’s Building Construction and Occupancy Code, and mandating periodic inspection and repair of building exteriors. The ordinance also requires owners to file inspection reports with the Department of Licenses and Inspection (DLI). Affected buildings are defined by the ordinance as all buildings that are six stories or higher and all those that have any appurtenances greater than 60 feet in height. While the ordinance could make life more difficult for building owners, it will create opportunities for contractors seeking work in Philadelphia.
Pursuant to the newly enacted ordinance, the inspections must be conducted by a “Professional,” defined as a Pennsylvania “licensed Professional Engineer experienced in the practice of structural engineering or a licensed Registered Architect knowledgeable in the design, construction and inspection of building façades.”
The deadlines to complete the first inspections and reports are as follows:
- June 30, 2011-Buildings constructed prior to 1950 and those with a construction date that cannot be determined
- June 30, 2012-Buildings constructed between 1951 and 1970
- June 30, 2013-Buildings constructed between 1971 and 1980
- June 30, 2014-Buildings constructed between 1981 and 1990
- June 30, 2015-Buildings constructed between 1991 and 2005
- For buildings constructed since 2005, the first inspection and report are due 10 years after the issuance of the certificate of occupancy
After the initial round of inspections and reports, inspections must be conducted and reports filed on a 5 year cycle. Owners are responsible for retaining their reports and keeping them readily available for inspection by the DLI. Violations of the ordinance are considered Class III offenses and violators are subject to a fine of $2,000 per violation.
Classification of Inspected Buildings
Once a façade is inspected, it will be classified by the Professional into 1 of 3 categories:
- Unsafe-Building exteriors that contain at least one “Unsafe condition”, which is defined in the ordinance as a condition of the building’s exterior that is “dangerous to persons or property and requires prompt remedial action.”
- Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program-Building exteriors that are not serious enough to be deemed “Unsafe,” but that require repairs or maintenance within a time period designated by the Professional in order to prevent deterioration into an Unsafe condition.
- Safe-Building exteriors that are deemed neither “Unsafe” nor “Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program” at the time of inspection.
Inspection and Report Requirements
An inspection of a building requires a “physical, hands-on inspection,” but other methods of inspection are permitted if deemed appropriate, except that “a physical inspection from a scaffold or other observation platform is required for a representative sample of the exterior wall.” Professionals are required to use appropriate professional standards of care to detect distressed conditions. Additionally, further testing may be required for any distressed condition to determine its significance or probable cause.
Once the inspection is complete, the Professional must draft and submit a written report to the owner of the building and a summary of the report to the DLI. The inspection reports must include 17 discrete pieces of information, including detailed explanations about the Professional’s findings as well as pictures or sketches of any areas deemed Unsafe or Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program. Any Unsafe condition discovered by the Professional must be reported by the Professional to the DLI in writing within 12 hours. Additionally, the Professional must notify the owner about the Unsafe condition by letter or fax. If a building is deemed Unsafe, then the full report must be submitted to the DLI within 24 hours of completion of the inspection.
Remediation of Unsafe Conditions
Within 24 hours of being notified of an Unsafe condition, the owner must take any action necessary to protect public safety, including erecting sidewalk sheds, fences, and/or safety netting. These actions will be considered an effort to remedy an emergency situation and appropriate permits must be submitted to the DLI within 3 days. Owners must begin work to correct the Unsafe condition within 10 days from the filing of the reports. Unless there is some unforeseen delay, the remediation work shall continue without interruption until the Unsafe condition has been corrected.
The DLI may grant extensions of up to 90 days to begin repairs of an Unsafe condition. Applications for extensions must be completed by the Professional and require the following:
- Proof that the area around the Unsafe condition has been made safe
- A copy of the contract indicating the scope of work necessary to remediate the Unsafe condition
- The Professional’s estimate of the amount of time required to complete the repairs, along with a notarized affidavit by the owner or its agent that work will be completed within that time frame.
Within 2 weeks of correction of the Unsafe condition, the Professional shall reinspect the building and file a detailed amended report with the DLI. Further extensions may be granted but require an additional extension application certifying that the work has been substantially completed but that there has been some unforeseen delay, that there were unforeseen circumstances, or that the nature of the hazard requires more than 90 days to remediate.
Appeals and Exceptions
Owners who disagree with the Professional’s initial or amended inspection report can file an appeal with the Board of Building Standards within 30 days of the submission of the report. All appeals must include the report of a second Professional. Filing an appeal will stay the requirement to perform the work necessary to remediate the Unsafe condition, but not the requirement to make the area safe for the public.
Owners who have already substantially restored the façade of a building during the five years immediately preceding the date of any required inspection may apply to the DLI for a waiver. Applications for waiver must be supplemented with whatever information the DLI deems necessary for proper evaluation of the request. A waiver will be granted if the DLI determines that the recent restoration of the façade obviates the need for inspection until the next inspection cycle.