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Is the city being held hostage by scaffolding?

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Noticing a lot of scaffolding around Manhattan--or, say, right outside your window? You're not alone.

One StreetEasy.com user recently took to the forums to discuss the proliferation of facade-strangling scaffolding and sidewalk enclosures.

"Is it true that Local 11 is holding the city hostage?" the urban dweller asks, referring to the local law that requires buildings over six stories to inspect and repair their facades every five years--and to erect scaffolding and a sidewalk bridge during that time. 

"It's the weirdest look, the permanent scaffolds on almost every block...," he or she observes. "It's especially upsetting/ugly now when the trees are in bloom, and everything looks sweet--except those ugly, ugly scaffolds all over the place."

In the ensuing discussion, Local Law 11 is derided as Buildings Department ploy to make money, since permits for scaffolding are a source of government revenue. Others see scaffolding as the fruits of shoddy work: "No other city on the planet has this many 'repairs' ...Tells you something about the quality of all these repairs," says one commenter.

Not everyone agrees.

"You people are whining nuts," says one. "Facades were grossly neglected for decades in the high rise era. Left to their own, building owners put upkeep off for another day when maybe someone else will be around to pay for it."

Aside from bracing yourselves for some ugly scaffolding, here's what to keep in mind when it comes to Local Law 11 if you're in the market right now:

1. Before you buy into a building, make sure it is in "compliance," meaning it's passed Local Law 11 at least once.

 "You can be in for a huge assessment if they are not yet in compliance," said a commenter.  "If the building has already passed its Local Law 11 compliance, then you can reasonably assume the facade is in good shape going forward."

And, on the bright side, "Local Law 11 mandates VERY intensive inspection and repair for compliance. As buildings all come into compliance ... Local Law 12 and future Local Laws are likely to be less onerous."

2. Think twice about white brick and terracotta facades.

These two materials are particularly prone to moisture issues, which can lead to big Local Law 11 repair bills.

"When a glazed exterior material is used like white brick or terracotta, water is repelled, but nevertheless seeps in through grout or due to condensation," explains one commenter. "That same glazing that keeps water out for the most part, also keeps water in. That trapped moisture corrodes metal support beams and can compromise the integrity of what holds the facade onto the structure and even the structure itself," said the commenter.

Don't necessarily rule out a white brick or terracotta facade-- just make sure it's well inspected and be sure to ask questions.

3. Glassy buildings could become the next big Local Law 11 casualties.

During the real estate boom, floor-to-ceiling glass "curtains" (ie. all-glass buildings) were all the rage.

How these buildings will stand up to Local Law 11 is still unknown.

As one commenter puts it, "New buildings with glass curtain walls have not been tested over time--all those new condos may or may not develop major issues over the next two decades--some may have catastrophic failures of materials. There just isn't a long history of how residential buildings with glass curtain walls age...I seriously wonder how these buildings will age--how many will (or already have) developed leaks around the windows and fogging inside faulty double pained glass, etc."

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