The Plumbing Foundation Testifies at Hearing on Gas Inspection Bills

On Monday, September 13, 2021, Executive Director April McIver testified at the NYC Council Committee on Housing & Buildings Hearing on several pieces of legislation related to Local Law 152/2016 periodic gas inspections, including:
  • Intro. No. 2259 – extending the deadlines for buildings in Community Districts 2, 5, 7, 13, and 18 in each borough from December 31, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
  • Intro. No. 2321 – requiring the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) to create a hardship program for owners unable to comply with LL152 inspection due dates.
  • Intro. No. 2361 – requiring DOB to create a questionnaire related to LL152 inspections for owner feedback .
  • Intro. No. 2377 – extending the physical scope of gas piping inspections.
Executive Director McIver reiterated the industry’s position that LL152 inspections are critical safety inspections and any extension or hardship program considerations should be carefully balanced by the Council and DOB. Most importantly, the Plumbing Foundation raised several concerns with Intro. No. 2377, which seeks to clarify the scope of the inspection. While the plumbing industry commended the Council for taking important and necessary steps to clarify what needs to be part of the inspection, McIver stated that, respectively, the amendment falls short and rather creates further confusion. The Plumbing Foundation proposed instead that the bill is revised as follows:
  • The scope of the inspection should include all visually accessible gas piping except for inside individual dwelling units (i.e. residential tenant spaces) and the point of entry regardless of location.
  • Allow licensed master plumbers (LMPs) to certify that a building contains no gas piping, otherwise an owner has to hire a more costly registered design professional.
  • Require that only LMPs and those holding a gas work qualification from the Department be able to conduct inspections (to provide the 5 years’ experience requirement that DOB set forth in rule).
  • Require DOB to add to its reporting requirements any information collected by the combustible gas indicator / leak survey instrument that are needed to perform these inspections.
  • Clarify the actions that must be taken for immediately hazardous v. nonimmediately hazardous abnormal operating conditions (AOCs).
  • Reverse the DOB’s recent lowering of a civil penalty and rather increase it – a lower penalty will only incentivize continued non-compliance. We have seen lowering of penalties, by rule or law, in many safety related installations; from sprinklers to backflow devices and inspections of water tanks and cooling towers, noncompliance can lead to devastating effects.
Executive Director McIver urged the Council to take these proposed revisions into careful consideration. Chairman Robert Cornegy acknowledged that the industry will be part of the ongoing negotiations of the bill.

The Plumbing Foundation Testifies at Hearing on Code Revision

On Monday, June 14, 2021, Executive Director April McIver testified at the NYC Council Committee on Housing & Buildings Hearing on Intro. No. 2261, also known as the Administrative Code revision portion of the Building Code Revision. The Plumbing Foundation commends the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) for involving the stakeholder community in the code revision process and is generally in support of the bill, but spoke on two major points as well as submitted written testimony on several other important issues. Executive Director McIver explained that the DOB proposes to revise the Administrative Code to allow city-employed licensed plumbers to conduct and obtain permits for all plumbing work, including new buildings and major alterations. Currently, license holders of city agencies can repair and replace existing plumbing systems, which has been the law for decades. DOB stated that the reason for this change is that the qualifications are the same for city and private licensed plumbers, but what DOB did not mention is that city employees are not and cannot be held to the same standard as private business owners, i.e., insurance and employer-related requirements. City-employed license holders are not employers, therefore there is no accountability for work conducted by persons under that licensee. Another important reason for not adopting this is that the city should want to have major alterations and installations done via bid by contract in which the outside contractor is held to a timeframe and payment schedule based on that contract, whereas there is much less of an incentive for internal employees being paid a salary regardless of meeting deadlines. The Plumbing Foundation foresees that this will add to the already existing delays in getting important plumbing related work done on many public works jobs (e.g. NYCHA, Parks, etc.). DOB also proposes to remove the Master Plumber and Master Fire Suppression Contractor License Board, established decades ago, which comprises DOB personnel and appointed members of the industry to oversee new license applications and disciplinary actions. DOB testified that other similar trades do not have a similar board; however, master electricians do currently have a license board. Other trades (other than licensed master plumbers, licensed fire suppression contractors, and licensed electricians) are not licensed/regulated to the extent which are licensed master plumbers, licensed fire suppression contractors, and licensed electricians. As is the case in many professions, such as the legal and medical professions, peer review of persons seeking to obtain a license and disciplinary matters of existing licensees is extremely important for transparency and oversight reasons. The Master Plumber and Master Fire Suppression Contractor License Board provides a much needed function and the duties should not be removed but strengthened. Other points the Plumbing Foundation emphasized in its written testimony include:
  • That the legislation should contain provisions which make it easier for an individual to become both a Licensed Plumber and Licensed Fire Suppression Contractor, since most persons have the requisite knowledge and experience for both licenses.
  • That the Council should expand the DOB’s seizure and forfeiture abilities to allow DOB to seize vehicles and tools used in connection with unlicensed or unregistered activity at work sites other than new construction of 1-3 family homes. Alteration work of existing buildings, e.g., from single-family homes to 50-story commercial buildings, are more of a concern in the construction industry than just the activity on 1-3 family homes, which cannot legally occur if installed by non-licensees.
  • That the proposal to place a monetary cap of $50,000 on Category 1 Limited Plumbing Alterations, despite the work already being extremely limited under such definition, is completely arbitrary and sets barriers for homeowners, cooperatives, and others looking to have a licensed plumber complete limited plumbing work in a building in any 12-month period.
  • That the proposal to require a company licensed by the DOB to have its NYC office be “dedicated” to the licensee’s business be removed; Licensees have complied with the NYC office requirement for years but the additional mandate of having to make sure such space is dedicated to the business makes absolutely no sense given today’s commercial space costs and modern office arrangements.
The Plumbing Foundation is closely monitoring the progress of this legislation and will provide important updates to the industry.

NYS Senate Passes Modular Construction Legislation

On Thursday, March 25, 2021, the New York State Senate passed S.4738, which ensures that modular construction projects in New York City comply with licensing requirements.

High-rise modular construction in NYC cannot currently be forced to comply with the NYC Administrative Code requirements that traditional stick-built construction projects are required to follow: a NYC Department of Buildings (DOB)-licensed master plumber, NYC DOB-licensed master fire suppression contractor, and NYC DOB-licensed master electrician must conduct and oversee the work covered by such licenses. Licensing of these skilled trades ensures that experienced, qualified individuals are conducting complicated and dangerous work (e.g. gas piping, sprinkler, and electrical installations) and ensures that such work complies with the very stringent NYC Building Code. Work conducted by an unlicensed, unqualified, and inexperienced individual not familiar with NYC Building Code, regardless of whether that work is done in a factory or at a jobsite, can result in catastrophic consequences.

We commend Senator Jessica Ramos for her attention to this especially important matter and for the NYS Senate’s support of safe construction in New York City. We look forward to working with Assemblyman Erik Dilan on his same-as bill in the NYS Assembly.

The Plumbing Foundation testifies in support of Intro No. 1576 at Committee on Environmental Protection Hearing

On Tuesday, February 16, 2021, Terence O’Brien, Senior Director of the Plumbing Foundation, testified virtually at the NYC Council Committee on Environmental Protection Hearing in support of Intro. No. 1576, which proposes to increase the penalties imposed on owners failing to comply with the mandatory installation of and reporting requirements for backflow prevention devices.

“Backflow” occurs when drinking water is contaminated by hazardous substances. It happens when street pressure pushes water into buildings where dangerous materials and chemicals may exist, and no device prevents that now contaminated water from re-entering the drinking water supply. Sometimes water flow can be reversed due to a water main break or a mistaken or accidental cross connection between the building’s water distribution and drainage systems. Therefore, it is vital that buildings install and maintain backflow prevention devices to prevent the harmful results of contaminated water, which can contain bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.

Senior Director O’Brien urged the passage of Intro. No. 1576 to properly incentivize compliance with the law. The NYC Administrative Code currently allows first-time fines to be imposed anywhere from $50–$1,000 for violation of the requirement to install a backflow device. Such fines do not provide enough of an incentive for owners to comply with the law. In a former Council hearing, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) clarified that the Department fines building owners $500-$5,000.* In contrast, a backflow device itself can cost up to $20,000. This is why the industry believes fines should be increased, so that owners do not continue merely paying the lower fine but rather comply with the law and actually install the required devices.

O’Brien testified that Intro. No. 1576 addresses the problem as outlined above. It would increase the monetary penalties to be imposed on a building owner or operator who fails to comply with installation and reporting requirements for backflow prevention devices.

The installation of backflow prevention devices is a public health priority. It is apparent that the understanding of and compliance with backflow prevention is still an issue at large in the City. Steep fines must be imposed on owners who fail to comply with the law in order to property incentivize compliance.

*Hearing on Intro. No. 821, Committee on Environmental Protection, The New York City Council (Oct. 30, 2017).

NYC Council Passes Water Tank Inspection / Maintenance Legislation

The Plumbing Foundation is pleased to inform the industry that on April 9, 2019, the New York City Council passed Intro. No. 1157-B, which establishes qualification requirements for those inspecting and cleaning, coating, and painting water tanks. We commend the bill’s sponsor, Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Health Committee, as well as the co-Sponsors, and the entire City Council for passing legislation that ensures that water tanks are properly maintained. The City Council passed several other bills in the package, including on the reporting of inspections, to further strengthen the laws surrounding water tanks. There have been several reports of contamination and neglect of inspections and maintenance of the City’s water tanks. Click here to read a recent article covering the issue.

The Plumbing Foundation worked closely with the City Council on Intro. No. 1157-B, which for the first time in the NYC Administrative Code and the Health Code defines a water tank inspector as (i) a licensed master plumber pursuant, (ii) a person who works under the direct and continuing supervision of such a licensed master plumber, or (iii) a registered design professional. Prior to this legislation, the law was silent on who is required to conduct such inspections, which were commonly done by landlords and building owners themselves. Requiring that the inspector is a qualified and experienced person will ensure the integrity of such inspections and the health of NYC residents.

Intro. No. 1157-B also establishes more stringent criteria for those cleaning, coating, and painting water tanks. The new legislation will now make sure that the person conducting maintenance on water tanks is either a water tank inspector (i.e. a licensed plumber, someone working directly for a licensed plumber, or a registered design professional) or is a person who holds a commercial pesticide applicator certification in category 7G issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or works under the direct supervision of a person holding such certification.

Establishing clear criteria for who can maintain a water tank will decrease the instance of contamination and increase the safety of the necessary potable water source from diseases like E. coli and Legionnaires’.

NYC Enacts DEP Reporting Legislation on Backflow Prevention Devices

Passed on February 28th and now enacted into law, the New York City Council passed Local Law 58 of 2019, requiring the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to report annually to the Mayor and Speaker of the City Council data related to the installation of backflow prevention devices. Such report must include:
  • Number of all facilities that DEP estimates requires the installation of one or more backflow prevention devices;
  • Number of such facilities DEP has determined to be hazardous facilities;
  • Number of all facilities in which backflow prevention devices were installed in the preceding calendar year;
  • Number of hazardous facilities in which backflow prevention devices were installed in the preceding calendar year;
  • Number of annual backflow prevention device test reports filed with the department in the preceding calendar year;
  • Number of violations issued in the preceding calendar year for failure to install a backflow prevention device; and
  • Number of violations issued in the preceding calendar year for failure to file an annual backflow prevention device test report with the department.
The Plumbing Foundation City of New York, Inc. has been vigorously pushing for this legislation for a number of years. We commend the sponsor Council Member Donovan Richards, Chairperson of the Environmental Protection Committee and co-Sponsor Costa Constantinides, and the entire City Council for passing such necessary legislation. “Backflow” occurs when drinking water is contaminated by hazardous substances. It happens when street pressure pushes water into buildings where dangerous materials and chemicals may exist, and no device prevents that now contaminated water from re-entering the drinking water supply. Sometimes water flow can be reversed due to a water main break or a mistaken or accidental cross connection between the building’s water distribution and drainage systems. Therefore, it is vital that buildings install and maintain backflow prevention devices to prevent the harmful results of contaminated water, which can contain bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Please click here for the full text of the law.