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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 93, no. 2413: Articles]: June 13, 1914

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REAL* ESTATE BUILDERS AND NEW YORK, JUNE 13, 1914 l|i!!!''|!'':f!i:!li?'iii!|!liil|li!aiil!i!!i!II!lill!lllllllll rfJij^illillllliHIBIEJriB'liSiliitliltrj^^ .ilSraiBiHiPIEIiliJilSBIlliai-iKi !!!i3lH:'!5!;aillil|!'1l:1ii:l!!"5!;'1!|SilIllS I THE INSPECTION PLAGUE AND HOW TO STOP IT i How the State Authorities Regard the Situation—Not ™ the Laws But the Administration of Them Is Blamed. By ABRAM I. ELKUS *: Cotmsel of the State Factory Investigating Commission itiliilillllilllllllillllB^^^^^^^^^^^^ .....'.............i:...:>'.i,i:il In response to a request made by The Real Estate Record and Guide for a statement as to the workings of the laws which have been passed by the Legislature with reference to alterations in buildings and requirements as to oc¬ cupancy, in order to ensure safety in case of fire in buildings occupied as factories, Mr. Abram I. Elkus, Counsel for the New York State Factory Investigating Commission, made the following statement: A LITTLE over three years ago the •*^ Triangle Waist Company fire oc¬ curred. One hundred and forty-seven lives were lost in that single factory fire in a so-called fireproof loft building. Naturallv this caused a searching inves¬ tigation by the State. The result was this significant undisputed finding; that for decades we have been erecting factory buildings, some of which were occu¬ pied by hundreds and even by thous¬ ands, of employes and had paid but scant attention to providing sufficient means of exit for those occupants in case of fire. In other words, the life hazard was practically ignored. The Factory Investigating Commis¬ sion, which was created by the Legis¬ lature, not only investigated the sub¬ ject of fire hazard, but the far more im¬ portant subjects, perhaps, of sanitary conditions and preservation of the health of the worker—important alike for the employer and the employe. After a careful investigation the Fac¬ tory Commission prepared a number of bills, among others, by which it was hoped to secure saitety to the factory workers in case of fire. Wide publicity was given to these proposed measures and they were under consideration for several months; some of them for over a year. They were first issued in tenta¬ tive form, widely distributed all over New York State, and were discussed at public hearings and in conferences. .■\lthough direct appeal was made to the real estate interests, but little concern appeared to be taken by them in the matter, but a committee of the real estate interests (consisting of two prom¬ inent gentlemen) approved of the bills as they were passed. These proposed laws were changed and amended to rneet the suggestions and criticisms of¬ fered. Every witness who was called to testify to facts before the commis¬ sion was permitted to be cross-examined by anyone who desired, and any wit¬ ness who desired to make statements was permitted to do so. Is There Too Much Inspection? Now that these laws are being en¬ forced, and at the same time old laws which for man)' years had been prac¬ tically dead letters are also being en¬ forced, some real estate owners feel that a heavy burden has been placed upon them by the new laws, but more especially that there is too much in¬ spection of their premises by different departments of the city and State. Of course, wherever structural M^T: ' -J: ■■{",^:=^7^.,.-'; :"\ IP "■ -,''. ■iw-'' -^n J' *-" ■ If / ' ^»^^ Copi/riiilit, i'irie IMoelionnld. N. Y. ABR.'^M 1. ELKUS, changes are required in a building which cost some money, naturally those af¬ fected will consider it a burden, but the fact remains that many of these build¬ ings in which structural changes are now required were permitted to be erected without regard to safety in case of fire. Many thousands of buildings are being occupied as factories where a number of people arc employed, which were never erected for that purpose. Far-sighted real estate owners realize, however, that the changes required by the law, while in many cases numerous, are necessary. It has been said that the law should not apply to low build¬ ings because they do not prevent any fire hazard. W'e have only to consider the ninghamton fire of last year (a buildin.a- of four stories) where many lost their lives, to realize that while the fire hazard may be less in a low build¬ in.g it still exists, and to an alarming extent. Due allowance has been made for low buildings, as they are exempted from some of the most costly require¬ ments; for example, the enclosure of stairways. The tenement house fire at 90 Essex street, which occurred on June 10, 1914, where eight lives were lost, is an illustration of the danger in low buildings. It is true this was a tene¬ ment house, but it was only a five-story building. It also illustrates the neces¬ sity of one of the laws which was en¬ acted on the recommendation of the Factory Commission; that is, doing away with the storing of rubbish on the premises. Duplication of Inspection Admitted. It is gratifying to note that for the most part the property owner and the employer do not object to the new law.s. They do object—and properly—to the multiplicity of inspections where they could be avoided and to the conflicting orders whieh they claim are- issued by different departments of the city and State government. Of course, the com¬ plaints in this regard are naturally ex¬ aggerated, but that there is duplication of inspection which may be unneces¬ sary and a giving of orders piecemeal, IS apparent, and these should be done away with altogether. I do not believe there are many contradictory orders. From investigation by the commission It IS clear that a little common sense in the administration of the laws would eliminate this harassing condition of af¬ fairs. It should be made clear that the Fac¬ tory Investigating Commission did not propose the law which created the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Fire Depart¬ ment of the City of New York. Administration Difficulties. Most of the trouble complained about IS in the administration of the various laws. This can be practically done away with without any legislation. All of the city departments are under the control of the Mayor and the Borough President. Undoubtedly they would be glad to work together in harmony, and by so doing would do away with a great deal of the multiplicity of inspections and with any conflict of orders between city departments. I happen to know, from meetings with various officials that theyare working along these lines. Leg¬ islation to accomplish this end cannot be relied upon altogether. This is made clear by what has happened with ref¬ erence to the bakeries in New York City. Two years ago there was a division of responsibility as to these establish¬ ments between the Labor Department and the Health Department of the City °u ^-S^ ^ork. To do away with this the Factory Commission recommended to the Legislature that the Health De¬ partment of the City of New York be given sole and exclusive control over conditions in bakeries in that city. Leg¬ islation was enacted to carry this out. It has now been reported that the Health Department of New York City alone sends three different inspectors into the bakeries, one a medical in¬ spector, another to inspect food stuffs and a third for the purpose of inspect¬ ing sanitary conditions. Of course, a little common sense would avoid most, if not all, of this. The doctor might make all three inspections. To do this needs only a direction from his su¬ perior. Plans for Relief. The Factory Commission is now care¬ fully considering a plan which it hopes will eliminate the complaints as to the administration of the law and the troubles complained of. To that end con¬ ferences have been held with the juris¬ diction over the inspection of buildin,ys. It was tentatively a.^rced that there should he a conference held with the heads of these departments to ascer¬ tain whether inspections of the same property by different departments could not be in most cases dispensed with and thus guard against the issuiii.i;- of what might be deemed conflicting orders. The results of such a scheme of co¬ operation will soon be ascertained. If