Rehabbing a building with a dead elevator

5 Replies

We have acquired another building that is mixed use.  It was an old law firm on the first floor, and the three floors above it are just empty office space. It also has an elevator that hasn't been working for decades. At least 20+ years. It's an old Otis elevator that was run by rope pulleys. I am arguing with the architect that we're grandfathered in and we shouldn't have to replace or repair it since it hasn't been operable in many decades. He is saying that since we're doing so much work, changing it from an 100% office to an office with three levels of res. apts that we'd have to do so, but he's going to look into the code on it.

Anyone dealt with issues like this? We already own the building for the last few months. We're getting the plans together for the city to receive approval for the conversion. However, this elevator can be an expensive fix. I'd say it may have worked back in the 60's or 70's. Local elevator companies in the area where the building is located has quoted 50k - 100k to repair.

Open to ideas and suggestions. I'd rather just convert to stairs.

Well, city codes will determine if you Have to make it functional.....I’ve never heard of anything being grandfathered in as not required because it “has been broken for so long”.

But more importantly, there would be No appeal here for a four story apartment building with No would be an immediate pass for the majority of tenants.

Unless there is a financial hardship provision in the code to not need one or it isn't actually a requirement for the use, your architect is right. You may be 'existing non-conforming' (grandfathered) on the elevator standard (i.e. size or location ect), but something begin broken and never fixed doesn't make it grandfathered. It makes it an un-reported/un-discovered code compliance case. 

Look at it from this perspective, if your toilet broke at your house and you decided to use a camp toilet in the yard, does that make your house 'grandfathered' to not need plumbing? Obviously not. You were always required to provide something and simply got away with not doing it for awhile, now the party is over and it's time to put things back the way they were, or are supposed to be today. 

Now if the stairs meet the code for access/egress then so be it, but I'd guess that ADA is the issue. Maybe it is possible to provide a ground floor ADA unit, or a smaller single story elevator to meet ADA and save some costs that way. 

Location of property? @Mike A.  

Typically there is no grandfathering when you are doing any major upgrades, conversions or anything that changes the occupancy/use of the property. You are absolutely changing from commercial to mixed use. Your architect is correct. 

The better question is why you are arguing with your architect? You hired him/her for their expertise and knowledge of design, codes, building and construction. If you have a trusted relationship and has given you no reason to be skeptical of their word, then let him guide you. Project Cost are always going to be a factor, however your architect did not write the codes or law, they're just following them. In future befriend/retain an Architect early in the buying process to field questions to. If you had come to me with your plan for this property before purchasing, I would have immediately told you there is no gandfathering and the existing elevator would need to be addressed in your rehab plans. 

Jared Smith, RA  

Disclaimer: I am an architect, but I am not YOUR architect. I am not giving professional advice only general information. Contact a local architect/engineer for a detailed consultation specific to your project/locale.

We only consulted with the current archietect after acquiring the building. The previous one was unsure if we could get away with it or not since it is a small building. If we were to keep it 100% commercial, then probably, but not as a residential mixed use. I have someone from Otis coming out to see what options can be done on this elavator. It's an antique from the 19th century. I am sure it has to be worth something.


Just adding to the conversation of which @Jared W Smith gave sound advice.

Your location is important in determining your options, but I will give advice based upon my locale. When you change use or egress, you will trigger ADA compliance. This is especially true when you are creating Residential units which in NYC require the lowest level to be ADA accessible. If your lowest Level of Residential is located on the 2nd floor, you would be required to provide an "accessible route"(elevator access) to the apartment on that level.

If you were keeping the building as is and just filing a simple renovation job, thus potentially not triggering accessible compliance, you would maybe be able to avoid fixing the broken elevator. (to be determined by your Architect)

The Building code does not recognize a broken piece of equipment shown on the original approved plans as an exception to ADA compliance. They will even require you to add an elevator to comply with Accessibility which would be even more expensive than a repair.

Best of Luck with your project,

Alex Furini, RA