Thursday, October 20, 2016

Never-Ending Construction Clamor

CreditThe New York Times 
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A Long-Running Din
A co-op conversion project has been underway for over a year at the building across from our co-op. Every day, we are jarred awake at 7 a.m. by beeping trucks and noises of clashing lumber and metal. A worker at the site recently told us that the work would continue for “probably five” more years. How could it possibly take that long to renovate 57 units? Is it true there is no limit to how long residential construction may go on?
Upper West Side, Manhattan
You are not the only New Yorker pleading for the jackhammers to stop. Construction is seemingly everywhere, with permits issued for 11,729 units of housing in the first four months of the year, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. Facing half a decade of the racket must seem unbearable.
Unfortunately, you might just have to bear it. As long as the permits are active and the city has not issued any stop-work orders, construction can drag on indefinitely. Any work done before 7 a.m., after 6 p.m. or on weekends requires a variance, according to the Buildings Department. And expired permits can be renewed, provided there has been activity on the application within a two-year period of the permit’s expiration date, according to Andrew I. Bart, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
“Don’t give up hope,” Mr. Bart said. “You can address the quality of life issues affected by what seems like never-ending construction.”
Make some noise of your own. Find out the status of the building permits by visiting the Department of Buildings website. If any have expired, report them to the Buildings Department or 311. You can also report excessive noise (even during permitted work hours), excessive construction debris and work done outside of permitted hours.
You could also bring a private nuisance claim against the owner of the building and the contractors, but that might be a difficult case to win, as you would have to prove that the interference with your right to enjoy your co-op is caused by their conduct and is substantial, intentional and unreasonable, Mr. Bart said.
‘Living in Sin’ Rules
Do many co-ops still have “living in sin” bylaws, or enforce rules that prohibit two unmarried persons not closely blood-related from sharing a co-op? My co-op board has threatened to selectively enforce this rule.
Midtown East, Manhattan
“Living in sin” policies — rules that restrict unmarried couples from living together — date to a time when such arrangements were viewed as scandalous. Perhaps the most famous example was the Barbizon Hotel for Women on 63rd Street and Lexington, a residence that had strict restrictions on male visitors. (Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath and Joan Crawford all stayed there.)
Surprisingly, a handful of states still have laws on the books restricting cohabitation. An unmarried couple living together in Florida, for example, could face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for violating a 19th-century state law.
“It’s an embarrassment,” said Richard Stark, a Florida state representative and co-author of a bill to do away with the law. The measure, however, never made it out of the judiciary committee in the state House of Representatives. “This is a very, very conservative state,” he said.
But in New York, a co-op that tried to enforce a “living in sin” policy — and some older proprietary leases still include language limiting occupancy to a shareholder and a “spouse,” according to Thomas P. Higgins, a Manhattan real estate lawyer — would be in violation of the state’s roommate law, which allows tenants to live with a roommate.
Then there is the issue of marriage equality. The battle over same-sex marriage has substantially changed how the courts view an individual’s constitutional right to exercise autonomy over personal matters, such as whom he or she chooses to live with, Mr. Higgins said.
In other words, your co-op should not be questioning the status of your relationship with the person who shares your home with you. If you decide to move in with your significant other and the co-op gives you any grief, a terse letter to the co-op’s lawyer would likely resolve the matter quickly. And if the board enforced any rule selectively, it would find itself in deep water.
“Any board foolish enough to threaten to selectively enforce any rule is not getting good legal advice,” Mr. Higgins said. “A co-op’s rules need to be applied evenly, to all apartment shareholders.”
Asbestos Concerns
I am a rent-stabilized tenant living in an apartment building that is being converted from rentals to condos. Asbestos is being removed from several units. (Warning signs have been posted on the doors.) Fumes leak into the hall outside my unit. Am I safe?
Upper East Side, Manhattan
Asbestos fibers are odorless, tasteless and generally invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos is also a well-known carcinogen and a federally regulated hazardous substance. Areas where asbestos is being removed are supposed to be maintained under negative pressure to keep dust and asbestos fibers from being released into other spaces, according to Peter E. Varsalona, a principal of RAND Engineering and Architecture.
The fumes you are noticing could contain harmful substances, including asbestos, but without having the area professionally inspected, one cannot be certain. “Whatever the tenant is discerning, it’s a product of the ongoing demolition work in the area.” Mr. Varsalona said, adding that the fumes might or might not contain asbestos fibers.
An independent firm is supposed to monitor the air inside and outside the work area. If you are concerned about your safety or suspect the work is being done improperly, report the situation to your landlord. Also, call 311 to report the condition to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees asbestos abatement and can send out an inspector to assess the situation.

Where is Asbestos Found in Homes? More Places Than You Might Think…

Asbestos, a mineral fiber, was once widely used in a number of construction materials, including: roofing, flooring and ceiling tiles, insulation materials, and more. If the material isn’t wood, metal, glass, or plastic, there’s a chance it could contain asbestos. The existence of asbestos itself is not the issue; it becomes an issue when the material starts to break down when it is damaged, decayed, or disturbed. Home improvement efforts often free asbestos fibers and release them into the air, where can be inhaled and cause a number of health hazards.
 Laws and Regulations about Asbestos
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned some, but not all, uses of asbestos. These bans took place from 1973 until 1989. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the following products cannot be made, imported, processed, or distributed in the United States if they contain asbestos:
  • Corrugated paper
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Specialty paper
  • Flooring felt
The regulation also prevents products that previously did not contain asbestos from being manufactured to contain it, as a “new use” product.
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the following asbestos-containing products are now banned:
  • Asbestos block and pipe insulation
  • Spray-on surfacing applications
  • Spray-on applications of asbestos that contain more than 1% asbestos to buildings, pipes, structures, and conduits (unless certain conditions are met)
Under the Consumer Product Safety Act, asbestos cannot be used in artificial fireplace embers or in wall patching compounds.
Federal law does not prohibit the manufacture, import, processing, or distribution of the following potentially asbestos-containing products: cement in some forms, clothing, vinyl floor tiles, roofing felt, brakes, automatic transmission parts, and many other common products.
Items in Your Home That May Contain Asbestos
If your home was constructed between the 1940s and 1970s, there’s a very real risk that some materials in your home contain asbestos.
  1. Thermal insulation on basement boilers and pipes; oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may contain asbestos insulation
  2. Insulation products that contain vermiculite (used in walls and attics)
  3. Vinyl floor tile and adhesives
  4. Textured paints and patching compounds (used on walls and ceilings)
  5. Roofing
  6. Siding shingles
  7. Areas around wood burning stoves may be protected with millboard, paper, or cement sheets containing asbestos
  8. Pipes may be coated with asbestos
  9. Window glazing
Note: This is not a comprehensive list.
Friable vs. Non-Friable Asbestos
There are two types of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable refers to an asbestos-containing material that can be crumbled under the pressure of the hands, which increases the likelihood the fibers will be emitted into the air. Spray-on materials, insulation, and asbestos used in soundproofing applications is considered friable. Non-friable materials are those that typically do not release fibers into the air as long as they are left intact. These materials include vinyl floor tiles, roof felt, and siding. However, be aware that if non-friable materials are subjected to abuse through sanding, sawing, nailing or other forms of destruction, they can become friable and release asbestos fibers into the air.
This is why most good-condition asbestos-containing materials can be left alone. However, if you’re doing any remodeling or renovation, for the sake of your health, it’s important to get the materials you’ll be removing, destroying, or working with in any way tested for asbestos—BEFORE you begin making any major changes to your home.
Which States are at the Highest Risk?
People in all states have a risk of mortality due of asbestos exposure. Some states are higher simply because their population is older, while other states are higher because of the increased environmental and occupational sources of exposure. The state of Wisconsin ranks 14th for mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths, with most deaths occurring in and around Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a blue-collar history of metal working and paper manufacturing, two industries which often used asbestos in their factory insulation. Other areas of the state with high cases of mesothelioma include: Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Waukesha—all areas where paper mills are currently running or where they ran in the past.
For safety, never assume items in your older home do not contain asbestos. If you are aware of materials that contain asbestos in your home, leave them alone. If those materials need to be removed because of a remodeling project, contact the asbestos professionals at Wing Three to determine the protocol you’re required to follow for removal.

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