State Audit Finds False Elevator Inspections, Safety Hazards Overlooked by Outside Contracted Companies in New York City

Jennifer Vazquez

NBC New York

Jun 6, 2018

Private elevator inspectors in New York City are allegedly missing dangerous violations and allowing unsafe conditions to go unrepaired, a state audit reveals.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit looked at work performed by certified inspectors who worked for companies contracted by the city’s Department of Buildings.

Although DOB has 48 staff inspectors as of July 2017, it uses private companies to perform the annual inspections required of the city’s 71,000 elevators.

The audit had DOB inspectors and auditors going with non-DOB inspectors as they looked at 12 elevators in nine building throughout the five boroughs and allegedly found false elevator inspections and safety hazards that were overlooked.

DiNapoli’s audit says two non-DOB inspectors falsely certified that had inspected 15 elevators in 14 buildings before they actually did. Additionally, three non-DOB inspectors allegedly failed to spot a defective device that keeps elevator doors from opening between floors. Private inspectors also failed to examine the tops of elevator cars or elevator pits, which are required by the city’s contract and are set by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the report says.

According to the audit, inspectors also found hoist cables in two elevators in two different buildings that showed signs of wear. The problem was missed at one building and noted at the other, but the non-DOB inspector allegedly didn’t have the right tool to measure the cable thickness and determine the seriousness of the problem. The inspector was later fired by his company for unprofessionalism.

The audit also discovered missing or overlooked violations. DOB inspectors allegedly determined 29 violations were overlooked by non-DOB inspectors. Additionally, 6,741, or 11 percent, of the 63,314 annual elevator inspections DOB required be completed by non-DOB inspectors in 2016 were not done and 8,807, or 13 percent, of the 62,166 annual elevator inspections DOB required be completed by non-DOB inspectors in 2015 were also not done.

“In a vertical city, with tens of thousands of elevators carrying millions of people, it is unacceptable that New Yorkers should have to worry about false inspections or hazardous conditions. Even in a limited group of inspections, we found nearly every one missed violations that could pose risks to safety,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

DiNapoli’s audit provides recommendations to improve the inspection process, including: mandating that private inspectors comply with DOB procedures when performing elevator inspections; making sure that DOB lets building owners know of upcoming inspections so that can gain access; having deadlines by which building owners should respond to no-access inspection attempts; and using more forceful measures, like monetary penalties, against building owners when elevator tests are not performed.

DOB officials have agreed to eight out of nine recommendations and have taken steps to implement the changes to improve inspection, the Office of the New York State Comptroller said.

In a statement to NBC 4 New York, DOB said: “New York’s elevators are one of our safest forms of transportation – and DOB’s strong elevator regulations are a key reason why. That said, we take the Comptroller’s input seriously and have already taken steps to address many of these recommendations.”

In the audit report, a letter from the DOB says officials disagree with the recommendation of imposing monetary penalties because that would mean the "City Council would have to enact new laws."

DiNapoli said, while DOB officials have taken steps to adress public safety, they need to ensure inspections are complete.

“While the Department of Buildings deserves credit for taking steps to address the concerns and recommendations we’ve made in our audit report, the agency needs to ensure that all inspections are complete and thorough so that New Yorkers can feel confident that the elevators they ride in are safe,” DiNapoli said.