Some 44,000 elevators in New York must have door-lock systems installed by the end of the year.
By Kaya Laterman
A New York City regulation that requires the installation of door-lock monitors on elevators by the end of the year is starting to cause bottlenecks in work at elevator consultancy and maintenance companies, catching some co-op and condo boards off guard at the long wait times they face to get the work done.
Donald Gelestino, president of Champion Elevator, an elevator maintenance and modernization company in Manhattan, estimates the regulation will affect some 44,000 elevators in the city that will need to have door-lock monitoring systems installed or upgraded. The system prevents an elevator from moving if the doors are not properly closed; the city regulation was prompted by the 2011 death of a woman who was boarding an elevator in a Manhattan office building when the cab lurched upward.
In 2014, the city’s Department of Buildings required all elevators to have the door-lock monitors by Jan. 1, 2020. It will disclose its enforcement plan before the deadline, but there will be financial penalties for noncompliance, according to Andrew Rudansky, a buildings department spokesman.
“Building owners have had five years to comply with city regulations requiring them to install these door-lock monitors. The deadline to meet this code requirement is right around the corner,” Mr. Rudansky said in an email, urging owners who are not in compliance to get to work and not leave planning to “the last minute.”
Mr. Gelestino said his company currently has a wait of about five to six weeks, but he expected that time frame to get longer in the coming months. He said he was surprised that he was still receiving calls from board members who were just finding out about the regulation. “Many people were caught off guard,” he said.
He advises boards that have not yet reached out to an elevator consultancy company to do so now, as equipment makers and maintenance firms expect to get backed up even further with orders. Boards should hire consultants to comply with this particular code, since such firms act as third-party inspectors on behalf of the buildings department, Mr. Gelestino said. However, the department will also check whether elevators have the door-lock monitors as part of routine elevator inspections that occur twice a year.
“We’re already in crunchtime,” he said. “There are not enough contractors to get all the work done in time.”
Door-lock monitor upgrades on newer elevators won’t cost much, because the required system is likely already in place and only has to be activated or needs only a simple software upgrade, according to Joseph Caracappa, president of Sierra Consulting Group, an elevator consulting company in Manhasset, N.Y. For elevators between five and 10 years old, modifications could cost $5,000 to $15,000, and for those 10 years and older, the price could rise to $25,000.
Mr. Gelestino said the actual installation usually took one or two days but involved about five weeks of preparation to get permits, draw up blueprints and write engineering reports. Some elevators will require specific parts, like a software panel, to be made by the manufacturer, requiring a longer lead time, he added.
“And boards should know that prices might go up as the deadline nears,” he said.Frank Guzman, of Champion Elevator, works on wiring on top of an elevator car in a building in the Bronx.CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times
The buildings department is also requiring elevators to have a secondary emergency brake installed by 2027, which is prompting many boards to contemplate a complete elevator modernization project, especially if the system is over 20 years old. Mr. Caracappa said many of his clients were opting to first install the door-lock monitor and planned for an entire overhaul in two to three years, or ahead of the 2027 deadline.
“But it’s getting difficult to sign elevator modernization contracts right now since the focus is on door-lock monitoring compliance,” he added. Many buildings that want a complete overhaul are now waiting for work to start in October or November, he said.
A complete modernization is a long, painstaking process, according to Dennis DePaola, an executive vice president at Orsid Realty, a property management company in New York City.
He advises boards looking to modernize their systems to hire an elevator consultant to find out what specifically needs to be upgraded or brought up to code. The consultants typically suggest that boards get bids from three or four maintenance companies. It takes another six to eight weeks for a project to start after a contract is signed, Mr. De Paola said, and a complete overhaul can take 10 to 12 weeks.
“Board members need to be proactive to avoid the headaches” of being fined for noncompliance if they prioritize an optional, time-consuming modernization and miss a deadline for an upgrade required by the city.
Grant Duers, board president of an Upper West Side prewar condominium, said a complete modernization project was deemed a necessity once the board realized the building spent more than $80,000 in a fiscal year on maintaining its four elevators. After two years of research and planning, the board announced its plan to spend $1 million to upgrade its two passenger and two freight elevators at its annual meeting in May 2017.
“It’s a shocking number, so we spent a lot of effort on directly communicating with residents about the project from start to finish,” he said.
Mr. Caracappa said elevator modernization projects ran between $150,000 to $350,000 for each elevator.
Mr. Duers said multiple emails were sent to residents, and fliers were distributed explaining the project timeline. It took about 28 weeks, as elevators were fixed one at a time, and finished in March of 2018.
“The level of potential stress is so high,” Mr. Duers said, adding that the board also focused on giving frequent updates to building staff so they had the most up-to-date information and could share it with residents.
For buildings, especially those with only one elevator, that are planning a full modernization, boards need to communicate about the project to residents many months in advance, said Arline Kob, a principal of Key Real Estate Associates, a Manhattan property management company. During the on-site work of an elevator modernization, buildings usually do not allow moves in and out, renovations and large deliveries.
In general, Ms. Kob said, “Maintenance is a necessity, but it’s also a major inconvenience, and many boards are shocked when they deal with unforeseen delays.” She added: “When an elevator goes down, it’s really a big deal.”