NYC to hire 63 more building inspectors

Due to the unique nature of building in New York—where undeveloped space is scare—most properties feature extensions. Extensions can be unsecured and affect neighboring properties. The decision to hire more buildings inspectors—in the wake of Patricia Lancaster's resignation as buildings commissioner—brings the city's total to 461 inspectors.


When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office in 2002, he promised to reform the Dept. of Buildings, a 116-year-old institution that had been plagued by corruption and accused of incompetence. Despite some progress, a recent spate of fatal construction accidents, most prominently a

crane collapse in March

that killed seven, led

to the resignation of the buildings commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster

, last month.


In New York City, there are nearly one million buildings and

While it would be impossible to plant an inspector at every work site every day, even before the crane accident the department recognized that it needed to be more aggressive. On Sunday, the Bloomberg administration said that it would hire 63 more inspectors, bringing the total to 461. The department already has established seven enforcement teams, which can appear on job sites unannounced with the authority to suspend work on the spot.

The excavation team, which was formed nine months ago, has conducted 2,772 inspections on 1,685 sites, forcing half of those with active excavation to stop work at least temporarily.

Conditions at some 300 sites were found to be so egregious that a full engineering audit was ordered. Only two passed, said Timothy D. Lynch, chief engineer of the excavations team.

Many of the problems his team found had to do with the unique nature of building in New York, a city with virtually no undeveloped space but constant demand for more.

And most properties feature extensions, often with no foundation at all. Speaking to construction managers at Bovis Lend Lease, one of the city’s largest construction firms, during a recent seminar, Timothy D. Lynch, chief engineer of the excavations team, showed a photo of a building collapse in which a garage came tumbling down, adding that in building inspector parlance, unsecured structures are known as widow makers.

In many Manhattan projects, like larger developments under way in SoHo, the adjacent properties tend to be tenements built from the 1850s to the early 1900s, where hundreds of tons of material can rest on relatively tiny foundations.

Lynch said the design concept for these buildings was simply trial and error.

Read more about NYC buildings inspectors and the NYC Dept. of Buildings at the New York Times .

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