Building owners file lawsuit to block important NYC climate laws

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Local law 97, passed in 2019, requires buildings to reduce emissions by 2024. Property owners who don’t comply face penalties based on how much their buildings’ emissions exceed the city’s guideline — what a new lawsuit calls “draconian.”

Adi Talwar

Apartment buildings near Carroll Place and East 165th Street in the Bronx.

Building owners and managers are suing the city over a local law to decarbonize buildings and impose penalties based on carbon emissions.

The lawsuit, first reported by Crain’s New York, was filed Thursday in the New York Supreme Court on behalf of Glen Oaks Village Owners, 9-11 Maiden LLC and Bay Terrace Cooperative Section I. The lawsuit names New York City and the Department of Buildings as defendants.

The lawsuit, which was referred to City Limits by the law firm representing defendants, alleges that the city’s central emissions law is “unreasonable and unconstitutional” to the detriment of building owners, landlords and shareholders. It calls the penalties written into the law “draconian”.

Local Law 97, passed in 2019, requires buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to reduce emissions by 2024, achieving a 40 percent reduction in 2030 and an 80 percent reduction in 2050. -Emissions exceed city guidelines.

READ MORE: Milestone Emissions Act Implementation Progress and Delays

The complaint alleges that the law is preceded by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state’s aggressive climate legislation also passed in 2019, a plan by which New York State will implement those goals over the next several decades. It therefore pre-empts the field and leaves no room for municipalities to legislate in this area,” the complaint reads.

The penalty calculation and the short deadlines for builders to comply are also criticized. Additionally, it claims it is disproportionately targeting buildings in densely populated areas and with longer operating hours, as well as buildings that inherently use more electricity, including grocery stores, laundromats and restaurants.

Since taking office in January, City Comptroller Brad Lander has been vocal in support of Local Law 97 and the need for the mayor’s office to fund and encourage regulation of the legislature. The bureau declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but Louise Yeung, the Comptroller’s chief climate officer, noted the bureau’s commitment to building retrofits.

“The city has allocated various resources to educate property owners on how to remodel buildings, and we support the proactive expansion of these programs to work towards our collective emissions reduction by 2050,” Yeung told City Limits.

Environmentalists claim the lawsuit and general opposition from building owners is simply an attempt to circumvent regulation.

“There are a number of backward landlords who are delaying upgrading their buildings in hopes [and] think the Adams administration will let them off the hook,” said Pete Sikora, director of climate and inequality campaigns for New York’s Communities for Change.

Sikora also challenged the lawsuit’s claim that the local law conflicted with New York State’s CLCPA and pointed to other statutes in the city aimed at reducing emissions.

“The entire body of legislation that governs fuel economy, including the ban on town gas in new homes and the ban on certain types of highly polluting fuels, all help the state meet the goals it has set itself under the CLCPA. but [the] CLCPA does not pre-empt local decisions to reduce pollution,” he said. “That’s just absurd.”

Others say it’s more complicated.

Bob Friedrich, president of the first-named plaintiff in the lawsuit, Glen Oaks Village, which is home to 3,000 residents in 134 buildings, has been vocal in public meetings against the law as written. On April 13, he testified at a Local Law 97 committee hearing, calling the move financially draining.

“The New York City Council has imposed crippling financial costs and penalties on our families,” Friedrich said at the hearing. “The Climate Mobilization Act obliges us to carry out cost-intensive retrofitting of our heating and hot water systems, regardless of our ability to pay and regardless of need.”

He explained that a study of Glen Oaks’ heating plan estimated the cost of retrofitting the boilers at $17 million to $20 million. Even with those improvements, he added, the algorithm would be fined more than $800,000 a year. Replacing the boiler would cost each family $7,200, in addition to a 5 percent increase in maintenance fees, he said.

“This is madness,” he added.

In New York, residential buildings emit more than 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, making it the city’s largest source of pollution. In a recent report by the American Lung Association, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens received a failing grade for their high levels of ozone pollution — linked to the burning of vehicles and fossil fuels in buildings and power plants. Meanwhile, a new dashboard from the Court of Auditors shows the city is still a long way from the CLCPA’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Adi Talwar

Westbound traffic on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan on Friday night.

Rohit Aggarwala, the city’s chief climate officer and commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has advocated being lenient to building owners during the transition to full implementation of Local Law 97. “We need to understand the challenge of making space and doing the work that is needed, and we need to do whatever we can to help them,” Aggarwala said during a more than four-hour city council committee meeting on the law in April.

The Department of Buildings offers building owners free personalized guidance on making energy updates with retrofit and sustainability professionals through the NYC Accelerator program. The program has already served more than 9,000 buildings, according to the agency.

“In NYC, our buildings are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change, and we are committed to fully enforcing local Law 97,” DOB press secretary Andrew Rudansky said in a statement to City Limits. The agency will review the lawsuit once it’s served, he added.

This legal action isn’t the first time opponents have attempted to stop or delay the enforcement of a major city’s environmental law. In 2020, a statewide move to effectively ban plastic bags was challenged in court by plastic bag maker Poly-Pak Industries, the Bodega and Small Business Association, a Bronx grocery store and two grocery store owners. A Supreme Court judge later upheld the garbage bag reduction law, allowing enforcement to begin in mid-October, about seven months later than the Environment Department originally expected.

READ MORE: Plastic bags still ubiquitous in New York City stores months after ban enforcement began

Sikora said he was encouraged that the DOB appears determined to move forward as planned.

“That’s the kind of message the administration should be sending out,” he said. “That this is a law; the law is reasonable. It is necessary. It creates jobs, saves lives and reduces pollution. And the city is providing building owners with plenty of resources to help them comply.”

05/18/2022 – Complaint, Loc… by Jeanmarie Evelly


Liz Donovan is a member of the Report for America Corps.

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