Practice NYC Local Law 126: A Costly, Instantly Outdated Elevator Regulation

The Mayor of New York City and members of City Council have been repeatedly voicing concerns about the skyrocketing cost of living that has made even modest local spaces unaffordable. One of the most challenging problems for local city residents is their need to bear the costly burdens of onerous New York City (NYC) regulations - some of which deal with situations exceedingly unlikely to occur, thus providing negligible returns on these investments. I'd like to introduce you to the latest example - recently enacted New York City Local Law 126.

The average New York City resident likely sees elevator panels on a daily basis and has likely not given much thought about the buttons that appear, such as the emergency help and alarm buttons. Soon all will see an addition that includes a small LCD display with "Yes" and "No" buttons and will wonder why anyone would install such an outdated item with limited utility. This article explains why.

Local Law 126: A Costly, Outdated Elevator Regulation to Improve Emergency Services to the Deaf


During the pandemic, Local Law 126 was apparently discussed by a select few persons and ultimately enacted on Number 7, 2021, with an effective date November 7, 2022. As of March 1, 2023, the official publication of Local Law 126 still shows code revisions and cross-outs, perhaps exemplifying the unsatisfactory manner in which this regulation has been handled and communicated with all necessary stakeholders. As matter of fact, virtually every real estate and elevator industry expert to which I had spoken claimed to have no knowledge of the requirement, whose specific details concerning elevator upgrades were only allegedly shared with essential industry just weeks before the effective date in November 2022.

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The applicable part of New York City Local Law 126 relating to the elevator modification which purports to improve two-way communications services to deaf persons stuck in an elevator is American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 2019 regulation (2.27.1.1.4) The standard and ubiquitous elevator panel buildings may have selected for a modernization upgrade would need to be abandoned in favor of a new panel, which features a conspicuously large, monochrome LCD display with "yes" and "no" buttons. I was told by a well established New York City based elevator installer (40+ years in business) that it would almost certainly never be used during the lifetime of the elevator.

The attached 'drawing' was provided since actual product is still not yet even included in catalogs by major manufacturers (see Monitor Elevator Products current catalog) - so, at present, it must be purchased sight unseen. Cost is expected to range from $7,000 to 14,000 per elevator plus additional monthly monitoring (365/24/7) whose fees are also currently unknown because logistics and details are not fully established with providers. Whatever obvious and anticipated subsequent modifications that may be necessary will be borne by owners and residents of buildings with these elevators.

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While building management companies and the New York City Department of Buildings made sparse mention of upcoming Local Law 126 garage inspection requirements (an addition to punishing "Local Law 11" building facade regulations), there is virtually no evidence of any information that refer to these new elevator requirements. Inquiries made to a venerable property management company, a 50+ year elevator installer, a 40+ year elevator consultant and one of the most prominent co-op and condo associations in New York City resulted in a unanimous response - they were uninformed of exact elevator requirements even long after Local Law 126 was enacted and only a short time before it became effective. In fact, my discussions with several New York City officials made it apparent that parties being regulated - buildings and small apartment owners such as the building I represent - appear to have never informed directly of this regulation.

A Regulation Solving a Statistically Insignificant Problem, Handled Inadequately


Elevating Studio's Lift and Elevator Breakdown Statistics article estimates that a person may be trapped in a stuck office elevator once in 1 million rides (which cites a probability of .4 in 400,000 rides.) A 2006 article in The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education estimates less than one in 1-4,000 persons are "deaf." Thus, it would appear that the chance a deaf person might find themselves stuck in an elevator is conservatively approximated at once every 100-400 million rides. However, the chance that the suggested 'improvement' provided by Local Law 126 might help deaf persons will occur with even less frequency.

From my understanding, current regulations require visible options to assist stuck persons and include the following:
  • A conspicuous "alarm" button will emit a very loud bell that should expeditiously alert building staff and residents that assistance is needed;
  • The "call" button will contact the Fire Department for help, which is monitored 365/24/7, and includes two-way audio and a video view into the car to view passengers;
  • A visible light will illuminate and inform sighted persons (which includes the deaf) that help is on its way. Hence, this new regulation ostensibly provides negligible, if any improvement.
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The mandated SmartView two-way elevator visual communication system claims to be "designed to meet the ASME A17.1 2019 code change." In that regard - of technical compliance - I certainly agree. But the regulation and solution itself does not appear to meaningfully improve access and communication for the hearing impaired to rescue services. This purported (and profitable) solution offered by service providers who were informed of this new regulation contains the following substantial, easily avoidable limitations - and several more:
  • No two-way texting capability – it only has 'yes' and 'no' buttons to communicate with an operator – which is inferior to the capabilities of basic mobile phones circa 1997.
  • No touch screen or keyboard - Asking critically important questions such as "what language do you speak?" cannot be adequately communicated to non-English speakers.
  • The obvious solution - Mobile phone reception could very easily be enabled the elevator, guaranteeing that a deaf person will never use this SmartView device if they possess or be provided with in-car access to any mobile phone that has basic SMS text messaging capabilities – even one from 1997.
  • Accident & Abuse - In the YouTube video referenced, the provider appears to concede that this panel is expected to be the subject of mistake and mischief. Since this panel becomes a most prominent part of the elevator interface and is entirely disconnected from existing emergency service buttons, this panel will certainly lead to substantial confusion, mischief and abuse. An obvious assumption likely made (especially by delivery persons) is that this unlabeled panel must have some functional use – as do so many others, which are becoming more commonplace in elevators.

The punishing impact of regulatory waste on affordable living


This ASME elevator requirement that is now a part of New York City Local Law 126 regulation – enacted during the pandemic when few may have been aware – should be suspended immediately to avoid further costs to small property owners so that it can be undergo a proper review, public comment, and revision by stakeholders. With service providers and costs still unknown and an industry clearly not ready to implement this outdated technology, this is a solution to a problem we don't have that promises to get larger.

In upcoming articles, we plan to cover other punishing, overly onerous regulations such as Local Law 150-154 and Local Law 11 / SWARMP / FISP building facade requirements (which treat low-rise buildings as if they were high-rise, subjecting fewer residents and small property owners to near and greater than $1,000,000 costs every five years.)

(Illustration using standard panel located in Monitor Elevator Products catalog and the provided draft SmartView panel that will likely never be used during the entire duration of a New York City elevator.)

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About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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