« PreviousContinue »
it exercises were divided among four departments and it was found impossible to fix responsibility for the general neglect - I think I am not putting too harsh a word on it — of the provisions of the law as they existed previous to 1900. The purpose then as evidenced by the law was to concentrate in a single department all responsibility for the construction, alteration and maintenance of houses occupied by three or more families. The only function in connection with that which was omitted — and that I presume was out of deference to an existing condition, was that the standards of construction should be determined by the Bureau of Buildings in the different boroughs. Therefore plans were examined by the Bureau of Buildings in regard to the strength of structures and plans and specifications of the structure and material employed had to be filed with the Bureau of Buildings in the borough and examined there for those things but for other things by the Tenement House Department. The things for which we examine the plans are light, ventilation, fireproof qualities of certain of the features of construction and adequate means of egress in case of fire. Now I understand that this whole inquiry was started for the purpose of avoiding duplication of inspection and consequent conflict of orders. Since the matter was started I have made a careful investigation to ascertain whether in tenement houses, either generally or in such numbers as to justify complaint
there has been duplication of inspection and consequent conflict. I have asked this in publications like the Record and Guide and the Brooklyn Eagle, which has taken much interest in this investigation, for specific illustrations of hardship inflicted upon owners by such duplication of inspection and such conflict. I may say that I have not received five replies to my request. I think therefore I am well within the truth in saying that in so far as inspection of old buildings is concerned there is no conflict. As to the Health Department as soon as a building is declared to be occupied by three families --- although such occupancy may make it an illegal tenement, the Health Department ceases to take any action in the matter. By the provision in the law itself, when the Bureau of Fire Prevention was created, it was declared that it had no function to exercise in relation to tenement houses. That clause except tenement houses
was added in the fire VOL. V 81
prevention law wherever it seemed that the functions of the Bureau of Fire Prevention might bring it into tenement houses. So that, so far as inspection of old buildings is concerned, there is nothing at the present time in the way of duplication, and consequently there can be nothing in the way of conflict of orders.
Q. Commissioner, if I may interrupt you, it was stated here yesterday there was no reason why in passing upon plans the Bureau of Buildings could not pass upon the plans of a tenement house, that is, the same inspector, the same clerk who examines for strength and material in a building plan why he could not examine for light and ventilation, and that it was a hardship upon the owner or builder to require him to have his plans approved by two departments; I want to call your attention to that? A. That is a question that I have considered. The answer to that is that the work of examining plans for the requirements of the Tenement House Law has become highly specialized. I do not hesitate to say that if the Bureau of Buildings undertook to do what we are now doing it would simply mean the transfer of that division of the Tenement House Department which is engaged in criticising these plans to the Bureau of Buildings.
Q. Wouldn't that be better if you had to do it because it would then require only that department to examine the building? A. The answer to that proposition is this, that the housing question and the building question are different. One is a material proposition and the other is, I might say, sociological. To ask us to take care, for instance, of buildings that are turned over to us, in the construction of which we had no say, and turned over to us by different authorities in different boroughs, these authorities taking entirely different views of the importance and meaning of the Tenement House Law, would, I think, be to establish different standards all over the city. We want to remember that in this case we have a statute law which ought to operate for the same class of buildings similarly in all sections of the city and I do not think we would get that under the divided control which it would then have. I have stated that I do not think any economy would be found in this case except in one general respect -- that I am willing to admit — that if perhaps a single set of plans could be filed it might be an economy to that extent to the architect or
As a matter of time, however, we are on the nineteenth
floor of the Municipal Building. The Bureau of Buildings is on the twentieth floor.
Q. How about the other boroughs ? A. In the other boroughs there are more differences in distance but not frequently great. I think in Brooklyn they are perhaps five blocks apart.
Q. The complaint is that it took a great deal of time in the interval between the approval of the plan by the two departments, there elapsed a good deal of time, and the builders said yesterday they had to pay interest on their loans ? A. I think that is an important question. I would want to have some information on the question as to how much shortening there would be. We have made it a point, and I think it is generally true, that a plan does not remain with us more than a week without being definitely
Q. Now you inspect both before the building is erected and while it is in course of erection ? A. Yes.
Q. And after it is finished before you grant a certificate ? A. Yes.
Q. You have inspectors inspecting the building ? A. Yes.
Q. And the Building Department also has inspectors ? A. Yes, sir.
Q. The claim was that that was a duplication in this respect, that the one inspector for either the Building Department or the Tenement House Department could inspect for both purposes? A. My answer would be as to the question of economy on that ground that I think every bureau in the city has asked for additional inspectors every year.
Q. That is a kind of chronic habit? A. If they have not enough now to do the work how can they say that the men they have on the job would be sufficient to handle it if their functions were increased ?
Q. I do not think that is quite the criticism; the point is this, that there are two inspectors that go there for practically the same kind of work, whereas one would do? A. But they do it now, they go for plastering, they go for masonry and bricklaying, they go for electric lighting; in other words, the Bureau of Buildings itself sends three different inspectors on the same building.
Q. Is that necessary ? A. I am not defending the situation; I am only describing it.
Q. Isn't it a fact that every construction firm in the city uses one man to inspect for all of that kind of work? A. Yes, but I think they pay him more than $1,200 a year.
Q. But wouldn't it be cheaper to have one man at “$2,500 than four at $1,200”? A. I am not sure that it would for the reason that in our work -- I am not speaking of the kind of inspection necessary for high class factories or office buildings but for the kind of inspection necessary in our department it would be enough to have the character of intelligence we now employ. For instance, we have only four building inspectors taking care of the entire work in the borough of Manhattan. We have eleven, I think, taking care of the work in Brooklyn. There it is a question largely of the distribution of the work so that the number of men actually engaged on this work is relatively small. You want to remember, Mr. Elkus, that somewhat less than oneeighth of our appropriation is employed in the inspection of new buildings.
Q. Wouldn't it be practical Commissioner to transfer to the Building Department the work which your department now does with reference to the construction of new buildings and the structural changes in old buildings, leaving to your department the problem of the taking care of the maintenance and the housing of the people? A. Of course it may be done.
Q. Is that the main function of your department? A. The only thing that I think we would lose is the value of this specialized group of workers that has been built up with the idea of covering this particular thing. As I say, it is physically possible but it has a tendency to return to the old condition before the law.
Q. Of course as it is now every first class apartment house has to have your certificate before it can take tenants ? A. Yes, sir. I feel and have felt for a long time that the city would do well to progress a little rather than retrograde, that is to say, other States throughout the Union are making two families in a house the standard of tenement occupation and they are regulating the housing of all kinds. It therefore seems to me that the more natural line of division, if you are going to have it, is the factory and office buildings, and residence buildings that the functions to be exercised in these two things are of enough difference to make it desirable that the difference should be recognized.
Q. Yesterday the claim was made by some witnesses that your inspectors in your department were not practical; you heard that didn't you? A. Yes.
A. Yes. I might say I believe I heard the same statement from Mr. Carlin in Brooklyn some time ago, as the result of a controversy that came up between our departments, and I found that of 228 inspectors 149 had been engaged in mechanical occupations of one kind or another before they came into the Tenement House Department and became tenement house inspectors.
Q. Now is there anything further Commissioner ? A. I think that the question involved in the inspection of alterations is that they would practically have to be ordered by us in order that the working of the Tenement House Law may be effected. It had better remain pretty much as it is because there is bound to be a determination by us later on as to whether these alterations conform to the Tenement House Law or not. I think you can take it today that in every profession, in your distinguished profession, men are going more and more into specialization. You won't attempt to advise a client on a certain class of cases, because they are matters with which you are not familiar; you send him to somebody else. Now in the ten years the Tenement House Department has been going on we have built up a group of men who have specialized on this class of work and I do not believe it will be possible for a building inspector inside of a year to acquire the information which the ordinary inspector in the Tenement House Department has acquired as a result of his nine or ten years of work. Just before I came up here I heard you referring to the question of fires in old law buildings. I would like to make a comment on that. You do not have to go back in point of time. You can take yesterday. There was a fire in an old law house. They are a continuous danger. We have eighty odd thousand of those old law houses. It is necessary that they be permitted to continue to be occupied because there are no accommodation for the people anywhere else, yet the structural conditions in many of those, the stairways, are highly inflammable, and it is because of the constant and persistent eye that we have to keep upon those things that the special work of ours is so necessary.
Q. You have had no loss of life in a new law tenement? A.