Navigating New York City's New Green Roof Requirements

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On April 18th, 2019, the New York City Council made history when it passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a group of ten pieces of legislation with an emphasis on buildings, particularly energy efficiency and renewable energy adoption, set to take effect in November.

In the several months since the act was signed into law, city officials have been working to determine how and when the legislation will be enforced. On the reverse, building owners and developers have been trying to parse how the legislation will impact them.

While certain administrative aspects of the legislation have yet to be determined, Urbnder was fortunate to speak with two members of the New York City Departments of Buildings, who clarified details about how the laws will work once they take effect later this year.

In this post, we put together a user-friendly guide to one piece of the legislation based on what we know today, specifically NYC Local Laws 92 and 96, which aim to increase the number of operating “green roofs” across New York City.

Sustainable rooftop requirements: will this apply to my building?

Local Laws 92 and 96 require the installation of either a solar PV or green roof (covered in vegetation), or a combination of the two, on all new construction buildings, or buildings undergoing major renovations, meaning those which require a building permit.

Additionally, in an effort to improve building efficiency, the law requires that all surfaces meet new reflectance standards. In practice, this means that all flat roof building owners affected by this legislation must either install a green roof or, if installing a solar system, paint their rooftops with a white or silver reflective coating.

According to the law, green roofs and solar PV systems--classified together under the “sustainable roofing zone” designation--must cover 100% of available rooftop spaces. Areas exempt from this requirement include those covered by mechanical equipment, towers, or parapets, those required to remain clear due to city codes, those designated for tenant recreational use, those which are less than a quarter of the area of the largest floor plate in the building, or those deemed unfit for solar or a green roof by the Department of Buildings.

While this legislation applies to essentially all new construction buildings and those undergoing major renovations, there is language in the bill which exempts certain buildings too small to reasonably justify the installation of a solar system. According to the law, if a building cannot fit at least 4 kW of solar (approximately 12 solar panels), it may be eligible for an exemption. In that case though, a building may still be required to install a green roof, if possible.

Green roof law in practice: enforcement of the new legislation

While the city has yet to release key details of how the laws will be enforced once it takes effect later this year, Urbnder was fortunate to speak with two members of the New York City Departments of Buildings, who answered some of our questions.

Firstly, these new requirements will likely only apply to buildings with permits issued after the laws go into effect in mid-November. As such, if a permit is issued before that point, the requirements would not apply, even if construction has not yet begun. 

The city will determine whether or not a new building triggers the requirements during the plan examination stage. If the Department of Buildings receives a plan that requires the installation of either a green roof or solar system, the developer will be alerted. 

In the event that the city performs an inspection and finds that an eligible building is not in compliance, they will issue a violation. The exact penalty for a violation has yet to be determined. 

Navigating Changing Legislation

There is no doubt that the implementation of these new laws will cause some confusion and disruption to regular operations, but the New York City Council has determined that this legislation to ensure a greener, more efficient New York and to set the tone for the rest of the country. 

“We have to be more aggressive,” Councilman Espinal, who wrote this legislation, said to the Brooklyn Eagle. “It takes large cities like New York to implement aggressive green policies to fight climate change,” 

While these regulations will obviously go a long way to curtailing the threats of climate change, it will be up to local businesses and property owners to find creative ways to turn these changes into mutually beneficial opportunities. 

As the city moves to implement further climate-forward legislation, Urbnder will continue to offer expertise, guidance, and assistance in smoothly transitioning the five borough to a more renewable future. 

Our zero-risk solar option allows for building owners and developers to abide by the law without investing any upfront capital, creating a seamless opportunity for adjustment and adaptation.

Are you interested in learning more about community solar for your commercial, multi-family, or industrial property? We’d be happy to evaluate your building, or simply field your questions and concerns.