NYC council addresses lawsuit over DOB’s inadequate plumbing inspections

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by Plumbers Local 1, the New York City Council recently held a joint hearing of the Housing & Building Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Investigations on the lax enforcement of gas safety inspections and worker qualifications by the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB). Photo courtesy Butler Associates.

The New York City Council recently held a hearing on the inadequate enforcement of gas safety inspections and worker qualifications by the Department of Buildings (DOB), prompted by a lawsuit filed by the union, Plumbers Local 1.

The lawsuit claims unlicensed or improperly qualified workers are performing gas piping installations in buildings, and their substandard workmanship on critical gas welds routinely goes uninspected by the DOB. The union’s legal team testified to advocate for stronger enforcement of gas safety rules and regulations.

The litigation identifies hundreds of jobs throughout the five boroughs, where the DOB allegedly approved “gas authorizations without supporting documentation.”

The lawsuit, an Article 78 proceeding filed in New York State Supreme Court in December 2022, seeks court intervention to require the DOB to adhere to laws and regulations adopted following tragic gas explosions in Manhattan in 2014 and 2015.

The suit includes examples of the DOB’s approval of illegal gas work on taxpayer-funded public projects (Complaint, ¶101), evidence of unlicensed workers performing piping installations, cases of unverified “inspections” by contractors, and affidavits by licensed plumbers showing improper welds, along with a refusal by DOB officials to follow up. In one conference call, a high-level DOB official stated, “We’re not detectives.”

The union’s complaint comes at the same time Mayor Eric Adams has announced a new effort to “relax” certain measures to speed up construction of 500,000 new housing units. Those proposals would include assigning the DOB to conduct fire safety inspections normally conducted by the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY).

The acting DOB commissioner testified the agency has found thousands of plumbing violations since new inspection regulations were issued in 2020, but they did not address whether the agency has cracked down on unlicensed or unqualified workers.

A representative of the union’s legal team submitted seven areas of concern regarding ineffective enforcement and non-enforcement by the DOB. He also cautioned about the dangers of illegal work, falsified documents, unqualified workers, and dangerous shortcuts.

In response to the council’s housing and buildings chair Pierina Ana Sanchez (District 14/ Bronx), the acting commissioner detailed how the DOB provides a gas authorization to projects. He indicated a master plumber can call the DOB to inspect gas work and the agency then has just 48 hours to conduct an inspection. After that period expires, the agency head testified “another trade may close the walls,” and the master plumber can then simply call for final inspection of gas work. During the inspection, the “system must be pressurized in the presence of the inspector and keep the pressure unchanged within 30 minutes, and once the inspector sees that, the system considers it passed inspection and final gas authorization [is] issued.”

This explanation demonstrates the DOB does not require or routinely inspect the installed gas piping or welds, allowing “self-certification” by the installer. The DOB allows the walls to be closed prior to their presence on site for a “final” inspection.

Council member Charles Barron told the DOB to “get serious about inspections.”

In 2016, the city council enacted legislative reforms amending the NYC Construction Codes to provide for greater regulation of hazardous fuel gas work, which established a strict new qualification, effective Jan. 1, 2020. As a result, only the most experienced, skilled, and highly trained professionals were allowed to perform this critical work.

The reforms were in response to the East Harlem gas explosion, which occurred on March 12, 2014, and killed eight people. It was followed just over a year later by the East Village gas explosion that claimed two lives on March 26, 2015. Both incidents also caused major destruction to neighboring properties.

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *