DOB Adopts Rule for Retaining Wall Inspections

The Department of Buildings (DOB) has adopted a rule to regulate the inspections of and filing requirements for retaining walls. Among other things, the rule creates staggered inspection cycles, requires the performance of close-up inspections, and specifies timelines and other details with respect to the performance of and reporting requirements for retaining wall inspections.

According to the New York City Construction Code, a retaining wall is “a wall that resists lateral pressures and limits lateral displacement caused by soil, rock, water or other materials, except that basement and vault walls that are part of a building, underground structures, including but not limited to utility vault structures, tunnels, transit stations and swimming pools, shall not be considered retaining walls.” Owners of property that contain retaining walls with a height of 10 feet or more and which front a public right-of-way are required to have a condition assessment inspection of each qualifying retaining wall at least once every five years conducted by a registered design professional, with the results of such inspection filed with the DOB. The code authorizes the DOB to impose and set filing fees for the reports, and permits the DOB to regulate the inspection process.

A summary of the DOB’s rule, which is now in effect, appears below, but due to the technical nature of the information, owners or their engineers should review the rule in its entirety to ensure compliance with all the requirements.

DOB Rule on Retaining Wall Inspections

Filing fees. Filing fees for retaining wall assessment reports are as follows: $355 for an initial filing, $ 130 for an amended filing, and $260 for an application for an extension of time to complete repairs.

Inspector qualifications. Only a licensed engineer with three years of relevant experience can perform the inspection and issue the assessment report.

Inspection and reporting. The condition assessment plan must be submitted to the DOB for approval at least 90 days prior to implementation. The DOB rule identifies the elements of the retaining wall that must be assessed and the type of information that must be included in the report. The assessment report must include a detailed description of the overall rating and the factors used to assign the rating.

Assessment reports must be filed within 60 days from the completion of the condition assessment, but not more than one year after the close-up inspection of the retaining wall was performed. If the DOB rejects an assessment report, a revised report must be filed within 45 days of the rejection. Failure to submit a revised report within one year of the initial filing will require the performance of a new condition assessment of the retaining wall (including a new close-up assessment).

Safety ratings. The ratings for retaining walls are safe, safe with minor repairs or maintenance, safe with repairs and/or engineering monitoring, or unsafe.
Retaining walls found to be unsafe must be reported by first calling 31I and then calling the DOB with the 311 complaint number within 24 hours of discovering the unsafe condition. Repairs and other appropriate measures must be commenced immediately.

Staggered cycles. The staggered reporting cycles will begin January I, 20l4.The cycles are determined by borough, with properties in the Bronx being required to file an acceptable assessment report in calendar year 2014, properties in Manhattan must file in 2015, properties in Staten Island must file in 2016, properties in Queens must file in 2017, and properties in Brooklyn must file in 2018.

Penalties. Failure to file an acceptable assessment report carries a penalty of $1,000 per year. In addition, a late filing penalty of $250 per month will be imposed. Also, an owner who fails to timely correct an unsafe condition will be subject to a penalty of $1,000 per month, pro-rated daily, until the unsafe condition is corrected. The amount of the penalty for failing to correct an unsafe condition will be determined by the date the DOB receives an acceptable amended assessment report indicating that the unsafe condition was corrected.

More than 200 retaining walls. An owner of multiple properties in multiple boroughs that contain 200 or more retaining walls subject to the inspection requirements and who employs a full-time professional engineer and has an established inspection procedure for the retaining walls as of the effective date of the DOB rule is not subject to the requirements of the rule (although the owner is still subject to the inspection and reporting requirements of the Construction Code). Such an owner must file inspection reports in a form acceptable to the DOB.

Effective date. The DOB’s retaining wall rule became effective July 24, 2013.

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