DOB Gives Building Owners a Little Lift

By Austin Regan

One of the changes that occurred with the adoption of the 2014 Code was that all proposed construction work had to comply with Chapter 11 which is the accessibility chapter of the Code. Applying the rules of Local Law 58 of 87 no longer applied to existing buildings. At the beginning of Chapter 11 there was a section devoted to how to apply the chapter to existing buildings. Below is an excerpt from that section.

§28.2-1101.3.1 Requirements based on change of occupancy or how a space is used. Accessible features and construction governed by this chapter shall be provided:

1. To the entire building, as if the building were hereafter erected, where a change is made in the main use or dominant occupancy of such building.

2. Throughout a space, including the immediate entrance(s) thereto, where an alteration is made that is considered either (i) a change in occupancy classification of such space in accordance with this code, or (ii) a change in the zoning use group of such space in accordance with the New York City Zoning Resolution.

Item 1 said if you are changing the predominant use of a building you had to treat accessibility requirements as if the old building were a new building. Item 2 said if there was a change in use to a space in a building that space had to be made accessible as if it were part of a new building. We are involved in many conversion projects where old manufacturing properties are being repurposed as offices or residences. All of these buildings were built prior to architects giving any thought to accessibility concerns. Any changes in levels along an accessible route were normally dealt with by the inclusion of a handicap lift but as you can see from BC 1109.7 the 2014 code limits the use of lifts along accessible routes to very specific, uncommon situations.

§28.2-1109.7 Lifts. Platform (wheelchair) lifts shall not be a part of a required accessible route in new construction except as indicated in Items 1 through 9. Platform (wheelchair) lifts shall be installed in accordance with BC Chapter 30 of this code, Section 410 (Platform Lifts) of ICC A117.1 and ASME A18.1. Platform (wheelchair) lifts are permitted to be part of a required accessible route in new construction as follows:

  1. An accessible route to a performing area and speaker platforms in Group A occupancies.
  2. An accessible route to wheelchair spaces required to comply with the wheelchair space dispersion requirements of Sections 28.2-1108.2.2 through 28.2-1108.2.6.
  3. An accessible route to spaces that are not open to the general public with an occupant load of not more than five.
  4. An accessible route as permitted in Section 28.2-1107.2.5 within a dwelling or sleeping unit.
  5. An interior accessible route to jury boxes and witness stands; raised courtroom stations including judges’ benches, clerks’ stations, bailiffs’ stations, deputy clerks’ stations and court reporters’ stations; and to depressed areas such as the well of the court.
  6. An accessible route where existing exterior site constraints make use of a ramp or elevator infeasible as determined by the commissioner pursuant to the rules of the department.
  7. An accessible route to load and unload areas serving amusement rides.
  8. An accessible route to play components or soft contained play structures.
  9. An accessible route to team or player seating areas serving areas of sport activity.

Appeals to the Mayor’s Office for Physical Disabilities (MOPD) for a waiver of the requirements for BC 1101.3.1 were largely unsuccessful when it came to the primary entrance of the building.

MOPD was more open to allowing lifts in some secondary spaces. Keeping in line with that thinking the DOB issued Building Bulletin 2016-008. While the rules regarding buildings whose predominant use has changed is the same their has been some relief offered when individual spaces change use.

B.  Change in use, occupancy that are not considered ‘new construction’(Item 3 of section BC 1101.3.1)

Additionally, the 2014 Building Code requires “an accessible route to a space, including rooftops, where prior to a change in use of occupancy or in how such space is used, this chapter would not have required an accessible route for new construction” as specified in item 3 of section BC1101.3.1.

With respect to prior Code buildings that were not subject to Local Law 58 of 1987 (i.e. applications for construction document approval were submitted prior to September 1, 1987), where a space is now undergoing change in use, occupancy or in how such a space is being used, and as such is subject to the 2014 Code as a result of Item 3 of sections BC 1101.3.1, such a change is not considered ‘new construction ’undersection BC 1109.7, so wheelchair platform lifts may serve as part of the required accessible route to such a space where permitted by ASME A18.1.

So if the building was filed prior to September 1st, 1987, then a lift can be used along an accessible route if proposed changes of use of spaces does not change the predominant use of the building. A building’s predominant use is the use that occupies more than 50% of the floor area of the building. This is good news for architects and owners as the use of a lift versus an elevator should save both space and money.