Cornegy Gives Thumbs Down to Sprinkler Legislation

Water spray sprinkler to extinguish fires.

City Councilmember Robert Cornegy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights), chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee, said today that the controversial legislation mandating installation of sprinkler systems in every residential building over 40 feet tall – roughly the size of a large brownstone –  will never see the light of day under his watch.

The proposed local law, (Intro 1146B)  would require owners of residential buildings over 40 feet tall (12.192 m) to install a system of automatic sprinklers by December 31, 2029. Building owners would need to file an interim report describing a plan for compliance one, five, and nine years after the effective date, or until they have filed a final report indicating full compliance.

Failing to file an interim or final report could result in a civil penalty of $250-$1000 per day depending on the number of dwelling units within a particular building. 

City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr

“I will not do anything for small homeowners to lose their hard-earned equity. There is no way this will come to a vote ever as long as I’m in office,” said Cornegy. “I will not be voting for a bill that hurts homeowners or our affordable housing stock, especially in this climate. Period.”

Cornegy’s proclamation came as opponents of the bill have put out a call to action, and set up a petition on change.org. They argue that owners of older buildings will face extreme difficulty retrofitting the property, and that construction would be invasive, causing significant disruption to tenants. 

They also argue that this would be an enormous financial undertaking, especially for small property owners. Some estimates find that the price for such installations could put homeowners out $70,000 or more. In a time when COVID-19 has significantly severed rent and many owners are not collecting rent at all, this could place both homeowners and renters in an even more financially precarious position, they argue.

Cornegy’s comments came after his committee held a hearing on the bill that included testimony from various stakeholders including homeowners, architects, fire safety experts, and advocates.

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca

City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carlos Menchaca, (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) yesterday, also withdrew his former support for the bill.

“Like all Councilmembers, I am committed to promoting fire prevention and safety mechanisms that will save lives. While Intro 1146b does recognize that automatic sprinklers enhances fire safety, the legislation as written lacks critical components that make it unworkable. Listening to experts at today’s hearing and after speaking to homeowners in my district, I am concerned that that the cost to install a sprinkler system is exorbitantly high, which most homeowners will not be able to cover,” said Menchaca.

Menchaca noted that the measure will also impact on tenants as installing sprinkler systems will cause severe disruption and possible displacement. Additionally, the Department of Buildings (DOB) does not have the resources or staff to oversee the implementation. 

According to DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca, there are approximately 85,000 residential buildings that would fall under Intro 1146b. In 2004, Local Law 26 imposed similar requirements on commercial buildings. Despite the 15 year compliance timeline, only 52% of the 1,121 commercial buildings that fall under the law have complied. 

“Intro 1146b gives residential homeowners only nine years to comply: an unrealistic timeline considering the lessons learned from Local Law 26 and the higher number of residential buildings,” said Menchaca.

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