Trip & Fall
TRIP & FALL DOWN STAIRS

Plaintiff, while descending the stairs between 5th and 6th floors located in a tenement building in New York City, fell down the stairs incurring injuries.

The accident location was inspected, measured and photographed. Focus was on the winder portion of the stairs. Several of the winder treads had been replaced, specifically the sixth winder tread up from the 5th floor and the eleventh tread down from the 6th floor. A scaled detailed sketch of the winder portion of the staircase showed that the winder treads were constructed according to Section §17 of the Tenement House Act of 1901. (See sketch below.)




The Property Profile of the New York City Building Department indicated that the tenement house was constructed in 1909. This indicated that the building would have to comply with the Tenement House Act of 1901 of the State of New York. In addition, Plaintiff's Expert investigated the New York City Building Department and indicated that a Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 1947 based on an Alteration in 1940 which altered the premises from a tenement to a single room occupancy (SRO). Further, that another Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 1966 based on Alteration in to change the occupancy from single room occupancy to a multi family multiple dwelling. Plaintiff's Expert alleged that winder treads on a means of egress staircase was in violation of the 1938 and 1968 Building Codes of the City of New York and the Multiple Dwelling Law of the State of New York. This was a mis-interpretation of the various codes and regulations that apply to this building.

The tenement building was constructed in 1909 and under the Tenement House Act of 1901. Refer to the Tenement House Act of 1901 amended to 1904, Section §17, Stairways, which states in part;
§17. Stairways, continued (in fireproof buildings). -- .... All stairs shall be constructed with a rise of not more that eight inches and with treads not less than ten inches wide and not less than three feet long in the clear. Winders will not be permitted except in a tenement house provided with a power passenger elevator. Where winders are used, all treads a point eighteen winches from the strings on the well side shall be at least ten inches wide. (Emphasis added)

Section §17 stated that winders were permitted in buildings with passenger elevators. The tenement building had a passenger elevator. Therefore, the stairs from the 6th floor to the 5th floor did not violate section §17 of the Tenement House Act of 1904 based on the original construction.
The tenement building had a change of occupancy in 1947 as a result of an Alteration. The building was converted to a single room occupancy dwelling. Refer to the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law amended to 1940, Section §82, Prohibited Uses, and Section §248, Single Room Occupancy, which states;

Sec. 82. Prohibited Uses. – 1. It shall be unlawful to occupy, use or let any apartment in any existing class A multiple dwelling for single room occupancy unless it complies with all the provisions of this section and of Section 248 of this chapter, as well as any provisions in this chapter that were applicable to such existing class A multiple dwelling prior to its conversion to single room occupancy.

Sec. 248. Single Room Occupancy. – 1. It shall be lawful to occupy any existing class A multiple dwelling or any part thereof, as a rooming house, lodging house, or furnished room house, or for single room occupancy, without increasing the number of stairs, provided such class A multiple dwelling or such portion or portions thereof being so used shall comply and conform with all the provisions and requirements of this section, and to such provisions of this chapter as were applicable to such class A multiple dwelling prior to its conversion for single room occupancy and provided such occupancy took place prior to September thirtieth, nineteen hundred thirty-nine. .....  
 
Sections §82(1) and §248(1) of the New York State Multiple Law refer back to when the building was constructed. Therefore, because winder steps were allowed in the construction of tenement building when the building was constructed, it was allowed when the building was converted from a tenement house or multiple dwelling to a single room occupancy building. Plaintiff’s Expert opinion that the winders violated the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York was incorrect. There was no violation with regard to the winders of the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York.

The tenement building had an additional change of occupancy in 1966 in accordance with an Alteration. This alteration, was referred to by Plaintiff's Expert, as the “cutting away of walls and floors”, “water distribution piping”, and “sewer or drainage system”. Plaintiff's Expert also stated that this alteration would affect the “health and fire safety” of the building. Plaintiff's Expert additionally cited the definition of alteration with the implication that the alterations affected the structure of the building. The definition of alteration as cited in the 1960 Building Code of the City of New York is;

§C26-11.0 Alteration. The term “alteration” as applied to a building or structure, shall mean any change or rearrangement in the structural parts or existing facilities of any such building or structure, or any enlargement thereof, whether by extension on any side or by any increase in height, or the moving of such building or structure from one location or position to another.
Plaintiff's Expert was correct that the upgrading of the plumbing facilities in tenement building was an alteration. However, he was not correct to extend the plumbing alteration to the winder steps. This is explained in Section §C26-1225.0, Replacement and Alterations in Plumbing System, in the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York amended to 1960 which states;

§C26-1225.0 Replacements and Alterations in Plumbing System. – A plumbing system lawfully installed before January first, nineteen hundred thirty-eight, ma be either replaced or altered to an extent involving fifty per cent or less of such plumbing system without being made to comply with this title, provided that the system is repaired or altered in a safe and sanitary manner  to the satisfaction of the superintendent. If any replacements or alterations involve more than fifty per cent of the fixture units and the piping used in connection therewith in the system, such whole system shall be made to comply with this title, except that any fixture may be replaced with another fixture of similar capacity and purpose without regard to the preceding limitations of this section.

Section §C26-1225.0, applies only to plumbing and not to stairs. Therefore, Plaintiff's Expert was not correct in citing that the replacement and alteration of plumbing fixtures required the owner to replace or alters the stairs.

Further, the items in the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York that were mentioned by Plaintiff's Expert would not apply to winder steps relating to a means of egress stairway because means of egress in the 1938 Building Code does not apply to multiple dwellings. Refer to Section §C26-272.0, Application of Means of Egress Requirements, which states;

§26-272.0 Application of Means of Egress Requirements. – Unless otherwise specifically stated, the provisions of this article shall apply to all structures erected after January 1, 1938; except ....   Also the provisions of this article shall not apply to the exits from those parts of class A multiple dwellings which are used or occupied, or which are arranged, intended or designed to be occupied for residence purposes, when the exits from such parts come under the provisions of the multiple dwelling law; but where the exits serve parts of the building used for other than residence purposes, the provisions of the multiple dwelling law and of this article whichever are most restrictive shall apply. ....

Section C26-272.0 stated that the means of egress from a tenement building shall be governed by the Multiple Dwelling Law and not the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York. Therefore, the sections of the 1938 Building Code cited by Plaintiff's Expert with regard to the winder steps do not apply in this case.

SUMMARY AND OPINION

     I.   The Property Profile of the New York City Building Department indicated that the tenement building, was constructed in 1909. This indicated that the building must comply with the Tenement House Act of 1901 of the State of New York.
     II.  Plaintiff's Expert alleged that winder treads on a means of egress staircase was in violation of the 1938 and 1968 Building Codes of the City of New York and the Multiple Dwelling Law of the State of New York. This was a mis-interpretation of the various codes and regulations that apply to this building.
     III. Section §17 of the Tenement House Act stated that winders were permitted in buildings with passenger elevators. Tenement building had a passenger elevator. Therefore, the stairs from the 6th floor to the 5th floor did not violate section §17 of the Tenement House Act of 1904.
     IV.  Section §17 of the Tenement House Act stated that winder treads must be ten inches (10”) in width at a distance of eighteen inches (18”) from the stringer on the well side of the stairs. The winders complied with Section §17.
     V.   Sections §82(1) and §248(1) of the Multiple Dwelling Law of the State of New York refers back to when the building was constructed. Therefore, because winder steps were allowed in the construction of tenement building when the building was erected, it was allowed when the building was converted from a tenement house or multiple dwelling to a single room occupancy building. Therefore, Plaintiff's Expert’s opinion that the winders violated the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York was incorrect. There was no violation with regard to the winders of the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York.
     VI.  Plaintiff's Expert was correct that the upgrading of the plumbing facilities in tenement building was an alteration. However, he was not correct to extend the plumbing alteration to the winder steps. This was explained in Section §C26-1225.0, Replacement and Alterations in Plumbing System, in the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York amended to 1960.
     VII. Section §C26-1225.0, applies only to plumbing and not to stairs. Therefore, Plaintiff's Expert was not correct in citing that the replacement and alteration of plumbing fixtures required to owner to replace or alters the winder stairs.
     VIII.    The sections of the 1938 Building Code of the City of New York that were mentioned by Plaintiff's Expert would not apply to winder steps relating to a means of egress stairway because means of egress in the 1938 Building Code does not apply to multiple dwellings. Refer to Section §C26-272.0, Application of Means of Egress Requirements.
     IX.      The claims of violations of the winder steps between the 5th and 6th floors of tenement building in New York City were not warranted as the winder steps were legitimately constructed and installed as a proper means of egress in a tenement house, single room occupancy or multiple dwelling with a passenger elevator.

The case was settled.

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