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Rubik’s Cube: Legalizing Laundry Rooms

New York’s initiative to have every building’s gas lines inspected is causing unexpected problems in many smaller buildings with laundry rooms. What exactly is going on in these buildings?

Many smaller buildings have laundry rooms in their basement with gas-operated dryers, and these laundry rooms aren’t on the building’s certificate of occupancy, so they are not considered legal. In the wake of all the recent gas explosions, the Department of Buildings has been inspecting laundry rooms to make sure gas dryers have hard piping as opposed to flexible piping and have a sprinkler system over the dryers. Add to this Local Law 152, which requires that every building has to have overhead gas pipes inspected by a licensed plumber, and a sniffer gun has to be used. Part of that inspection also requires laundry rooms to be inspected to see if dryers are hard-piped or not. 


What happens if the piping behind your dryers isn’t hard-piped? 

If you have flexible piping, a report is submitted to the city saying that you need to make this repair and install hard piping. They might give you about six months, and then if you’re not compliant, there could be a $10,000 fine.


So couldn’t you just fix the piping problem?

You could hire a plumber to replace the flexible connectors and hard-pipe your dryers. The problem is you need to file a permit, and to get a permit you have to show that the laundry room is on your certificate of occupancy. It becomes this vicious little cycle that you can’t do what you need to do because your laundry room isn’t legal. 


Are there options for a building with an illegal laundry room and flexible-piped dryers?

There’s a couple of options. The most expensive, legitimate way to do this is to hire an engineer and file a DOB permit, what’s called an Alteration Type 2, to try to legalize the room without amending your certificate of occupancy. Legalizing the room normally requires that laundry rooms that have been in existence for who knows how many years have a lot of things they probably don’t have right now — for example, a floor drain, a slop sink, a lint catcher, a hardwired smoke detector, air vents and proper exhausting. All these things would have to be put in. So between an engineer, a plumber, an electrician and filing, you’re probably going to spend between $25,000 to $50,000 to get this legalized.


Are there any other options?

There are two other options. Some buildings might say, “Forget about having a gas dryer, let’s upgrade our electrical panel and put in enough amperage, and ask the laundry company to switch out the gas dryers to electric dryers.” But your building may not have enough power for three or four dryers. While this option is not nearly as expensive as trying to legalize the laundry room, it’s still a costly fix. Depending on your current amperage, what you need to bring in and the number of dryers you have, it could be $7,000 to $15,000.


Then there’s the third option, which is to bring in a plumber without filing for a permit and simply hard-pipe the dryers on your own. So when an inspector comes in, they will see hard-pipe dryers, and you’ll meet Local Law 152 requirements, assuming there’s no other gas leaks within the building. To be honest, I have seen buildings deciding to go with this option because at the end of the day, filing for an Alteration Type 2 permit and doing the hard piping of the gas line accomplishes the same thing – making a safer laundry room – even if it isn’t legalized.


For many buildings, it really is a matter of money, since they may not have enough for legalizing the laundry room. 

In the past, laundry companies were actually very generous by offering to give a building money to legalize its laundry room if it renewed for a 10-year deal instead of a 7-year one. But in Manhattan, laundry companies have taken a huge beating because of the exodus from the city and are not making the same income as they once did, so they’re no longer as generous. Hopefully they will come back as the pandemic ends and people start to move back in. But right now, most have probably taken it on the chin and are not about to give out any funds to buildings to do anything other than putting in their equipment. 


What are most of your clients choosing to do?

A number of buildings are upgrading to electric dryers. If you’re in the outer boroughs, and you haven’t suffered the mass exodus as Manhattan has, some of the laundry companies are still offering bonus options to help you legalize your room. I actually manage a building in Riverdale that’s doing this. Because Local Law 152 inspections are in different cycles depending on community board groups, their inspection is due next year. This will hopefully give us more than enough time to get the legalization of the room and not have to be concerned about when we do the Local Law 152 tests. So the outer boroughs might be faring a lot better than Manhattan at this point.

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