At a City Council hearing this week, the Department of Buildings said it has nearly doubled the number of staff members dedicated to implementing the city’s landmark law to lower building emissions.

DOB staff is in charge of enforcing the new rules for roughly 50,000 buildings.

Adi Talwar

Department of Buildings staff is in charge of enforcing the new rules for roughly 50,000 buildings.

Last month, when environmental advocates heard there were only 11 staff members at the Department of Buildings (DOB) dedicated to enforcing New York City’s landmark climate emissions law, Local Law 97 (LL97), they were not pleased.

The limited staff just didn’t seem like enough to ensure that the 50,000 buildings covered by LL97 reduce their greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the yearly targets set by the law.

But over the last month, the DOB says they have been busy nearly doubling the number of personnel dedicated to implementing LL97.

“The Local Law 97 staff is around 21. We have a four person vacancy and we’re working towards expansion,” said  Laura Popa, deputy commissioner of sustainability for the DOB at a City Council hearing Monday. “It’s a work in progress. But we do have a fair amount of people working on this.”

The sudden increase in staff was brought about by “a combination of both staffing up and reorganization efforts,” within the agency’s Sustainability Bureau, a DOB spokesperson explained in an emailed statement.

Last month, a DOB spokesperson told City Limits they were facing difficulties filling roles that require occupational licensing or a state specific certification. “These vacant positions are primarily for professional licensees, which have historically been difficult for DOB to fill due to strong competition from private industry,” a DOB spokesperson said in an emailed statement at the time.

In a statement, the agency said it has been “proactive in making recruitment and reorganization efforts since the Sustainability Bureau was first created at DOB in 2022.”

“This administration is committed to the full implementation of Local Law 97,” a spokesperson said. “As we have always said, we will continue to add additional staff ahead of the May 2025 deadline for the first round of compliance reports.”*

Starting May 1 of 2025, building owners covered by the law will have to submit a report detailing their annual greenhouse gas emissions. The DOB will be responsible for collecting and analyzing these reports, as well as issuing and enforcing penalties for building owners that fail to meet their emissions targets every year. 

Those who don’t comply can be subject to a fine of $268 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide above their caps.

On top of handling fines, DOB staff will be tasked with reviewing applications for buildings that apply for exemption from the penalties by demonstrating they have put in a good faith effort to meet their emissions targets.

“We have no idea how many buildings are going to use that pathway as an option,” said Popa at the hearing this week, noting that property owners can’t apply for the exemptions until the May 2025 start date.

The commissioner also added that the DOB is “focusing a significant amount” of time on giving building owners guidance on how to make the energy efficiency upgrades needed to meet their annual emissions limits. Recent efforts to reorganize the department involved “creating a new outreach and assistance unit,” Popa said. 

Outreach efforts add to the laundry list of tasks associated with carrying out Local Law 97, environmentalists point out. While advocates are happy to see the DOB nearly double its staff assigned to the law, some still worry that analyzing thousands of carbon emissions reports, monitoring compliance, enforcing fines, and granting exemptions will still prove difficult.

“It’s not enough. There needs to be more staff dedicated to implementing this law,” said Shravanthi Kanekal, senior resiliency planner for the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.

“We’re talking about a lot of carbon emissions reports that will have to be looked at and  inspections that will need to be completed. It does seem like a daunting task,” Kanekal added. “The DOB needs to prioritize Local Law 97 because there are just so many elements to it.”

*This story was updated since original publication to include additional comments from the Department of Buildings.

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