Plumbers balk at gas line inspections over liability concerns
In response to the deadly gas explosions in East Harlem and the East Village, the city adopted Local law 152, which obliges all building owners, including councils of cooperatives and condominiums, to have their gas pipes in common areas inspected by a licensed master plumber every four years. Since the law came into effect last year, an unexpected wrinkle has developed: Fearing that they may be exposed to legal liability, some plumbing companies refuse to accept gas line inspection work.
When Cooperative city, the massive 15,373-unit development in the northeast Bronx, prepared to perform its first round of mandatory gas line inspections last year, it was in uncharted territory – and it turned turned out to be the plumbers who bid for the job.
“After sending Requests for Proposals, 15 sellers attended the obligatory bidders’ conference ”, explains the property manager of the cooperative, Bob klehammer of Douglas elliman. “We received a total of three offers.
Klehammer speculates that some of the bidders were surprised by the extent of the inspection work at a property that has 35 high-rise buildings, eight pump rooms, three shopping malls, a school building and a power plant. “And,” Klehammer adds, “some companies may not have been aware of the qualifications their plumbers need it. Having to walk through all of our hallways and stairwells with a gas sniffer took a long time.
And it wasn’t cheap. “It cost us $ 375,000 just to do the inspections and deposits, ”Klehammer said, adding that the inspections revealed the need for some minor repairs. “I’m used to big numbers here. My frustration is with all these city warrants. They are usually the result of a tragic event, but the cost is added to the budgets of co-ops and condominiums. I don’t play down the tragedies of gas explosions, but I don’t see the point in imposing these additional costs on building owners.
Mike smith was not surprised to learn that so many plumbing companies were unwilling to perform gas line inspections in Co-op City. That’s because Smith, a licensed master plumber who runs a small family business called Plumbing and Mechanics East Meadow, disclaims all jobs in Local Law 152. “Anyone who asks for a gas inspection, I won’t,” says Smith. “Too much responsibility. After doing an inspection, something may happen that is beyond my control. If there’s an explosion, they’re going to come after me, and I have to prove that someone did something after my inspection. I don’t need the aggravation. I have a lot of work on the sprinklers.
It’s not just the little guys who balk. Phil kraus, centenary president Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating, decided not to send teams to inspect the gas lines. His reasoning is twofold: inspections expose the company to responsibility, and they have the potential to damage the hard-earned business reputation.
Regarding the liability exposure, Kraus says, “If you test a system and find nothing wrong, you write your report and you are fine. But I know for a fact that you can test a gas line in a basement, and one day it passes. If the temperature drop suddenly, say 30 degrees, that pipe might leak, and they shut down the building. We could be criticized for not testing properly. It could cost thousands of dollars to get the service back. If a building is closed or if there is loss of life, insurance companies will think twice before insuring us.
The threat to the company’s reputation puts it in a losing streak, according to Kraus. On the one hand, he says, the boards of directors of co-ops and condominiums could end up blaming us for having closed their buildings. On the other hand, if my team reports potential issues, I don’t want someone to say I’m trying to find work for the company. I’ve been here too long and I don’t want people to misinterpret my intention.
For Kraus, it is a risk it’s not worth the catch: “One bad mistake, and you’re out of business. And they can come after you personally. We don’t need to expose ourselves to responsibility.