Nearly a month ago, the City Council passed the historic Climate Mobilization Act (colloquially referred to as the city’s “Green New Deal”), a group of six bills aimed at reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions—including one requiring buildings of more than 25,000 square feet to conduct retrofits, such as replacing windows and insulation, to become more energy efficient.
A couple of days later, Mayor Bill de Blasio also touted the possibility of a glass skyscraper ban (which turned out not to be a ban after all), and followed that up by calling out several of President Donald Trump’s buildings as major emissions offenders. Those include Trump International Hotel & Tower, which would face fines of $850,871 fee per year if improvements are not made by 2030.
But a new Wall Street Journal study shows that the city’s older residential buildings—not necessarily its glass-and-steel skyscrapers—will shoulder a substantial burden under the new laws. Some of those buildings, including those with rent-regulated units, will be exempt from the regulations, according to the Journal. It found that 20 percent of all New York City buildings would face a penalty in 2024, and 80 percent would in 2030 with “current energy-use patterns.”
“While well-intentioned, this legislation unfairly forces larger co-op and condo buildings to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of reducing the City’s carbon footprint by 40 percent in 2030 and 80 percent in 2050,” a statement reads on the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC) website.
A CNYC study found that 10 Queens co-op buildings will likely be hit with more than $100,000 in fines each.
“This legislation unfairly places a burden on the backs of these homeowners, ignoring the fact that addressing climate change should be an obligation shared by all New Yorkers,” Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of CNYC said in a statement. “The fines will impose a real hardship on building residents and could harm both their financial stability and their quality of life.”
The Journal analysis reviewed energy usage reports filed by privately-owned building owners—for buildings of 50,000 square feet or larger—and estimated possible penalties. According to the analysis, Manhattan buildings made up 46 percent of those buildings, followed by Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
“This is going to bankrupt the average co-op,” Anthony Gigantiello Jr., board president of North Queensview Queens co-op, told the Wall Street Journal about the possibility of reinsulating red brick building’s exteriors.
However, Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, emphasized on City efforts to help building owners avoid fines by reaching emission targets.
“This is not about fines, it’s about carbon—we want owners to fix their buildings, we want them to meet these targets,” Chambers told Curbed. “Avoiding the fines is optimal, the fines are there just to make sure that we get where we need to go, but ultimately we really need to reduce the emission and that’s the purpose of this bill, this entire effort.”
Chambers cited city programs that offer support to building owners aiming at reaching emission targets. Retrofit Accelerator, for instance, provides free technical help for owners to do retrofits; the program has already provided assistance to more than 5,000 buildings, Chambers said. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) long-term financing program is another city-backed support program.
“The fines are structured and they’re setup in a way in which the cost of fines are commensurate with doing the work—so it costs you as much or more to pay the fines than it is to actually do the work,” Chambers said.
“The work pays for itself,” he added. “You’re investing in buildings you’re making them run better, you’re making them operate better, you’re making them better for the tenants; and you’re saving energy, which pays back over time.”