A Guide to NYC Cooling Tower Violations: Understanding the ISR and VDR



The NYC Cooling Tower Laws were passed to keep people safe from legionella bacteria and the severe form of pneumonia that it causes. Over the past few years, thousands of cooling towers were inspected and tested by the Department of Health’s newly staffed Office of Building Water Supply Oversight (OBWSO). If you are a cooling tower owner in New York City and have received an Inspection Summary Report (ISR) or a Violation Deficiency Report (VDR) then this is article for you. At first glance these documents, issued by the OBWSO, can be very confusing. The following article and FREE downloadable eBook can help answer questions that you may have about your NYC cooling tower ISR, VDR, and/or summons or any assessed fines or penalties.

NYC Cooling Tower Violations and the Violations Deficiency Report

To address growing public health concerns with Legionella and other waterborne pathogens, New York City passed laws specifically mandating the maintenance and operation of cooling towers and has instituted the first proactive inspection program for cooling towers in the United States. If you own a building in New York City with a cooling tower, failure to comply with these new Legionella laws will result in financially significant penalties.

Throughout the first full year of instating the new NY City and State Legionella laws, we have fielded many questions from building owners wanting to know what they needed to do to comply with the new laws and, in many cases, what they were doing wrong – because they were already receiving violations for issues where they thought that they were already in compliance! Without a doubt, this phenomenon has been more heavily felt within the Five Boroughs of NYC than in other places throughout the state. The New York City Legionella Laws are very specific. They go way beyond merely having a sound cooling tower water treatment program or conducting a yearly cooling tower cleaning.

In response to the huge demand for information regarding NYC Cooling Tower Violations, our compliance team has put together a guide to understanding the violations associated with not properly operating and/or maintaining a cooling tower in NYC. If you own a cooling tower in the City, our guide may help you decode the penalties that you may be at risk for.

In the guide you will find all of the possible violations and the corresponding penalties that may be levied against a building owner that is not in compliance with the law. Each Violation has various Citations that are assigned to it. If you have been assessed with multiple Citations that fall under the same Violation, you are typically only penalized for that Violation one time. You can use this document to help you further understand what the Inspectors from the Department of Health’s Office of Building Water Supply Oversight (OBWSO) are looking for during their visits so that you may avoid unnecessary penalties and fines. Additionally, if you have already been inspected, you can use this document to help you plan and hopefully prevent future violations.

Brief History of Legionella Laws in NYC

By mid-July of 2015, agents of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were aggressively investigating the source of a suspected legionella outbreak that would eventually sicken 133 people and claim the lives of 16 accidental victims. Dozens of cooling towers capable of transmitting legionella were tested throughout the city, but the DOH had a problem; there was no definitive list or document of record identifying of all the cooling towers in NYC.

In July of 2015, cooling tower water treatment and maintenance was not regulated in New York, or really anywhere in the United States; but New York City’s outbreak in the South Bronx was so severe that it called for immediate legislative action. Both the New York City AND New York State initially passed emergency regulations to register and address all cooling towers throughout the City and State. By July of 2016, both New York City and New York State had passed sweeping cooling tower laws meant to protect the public and which carry severe penalties for their disregard.

New York State has New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, Title 10 –  Part 4: Protection Against Legionella which given its power by Statutory Authority: Public Health Law, section 225(5)(a). New York City Passed Local Law 77 or 2015 and codified its regulations with a new Chapter 8 (Cooling Towers) of Title 24 of the Rules of the City of New York.

Today, these laws represent the most stringent and broad sweeping laws ever passed in the United States in regard to protecting the public from legionella.


NYC Cooling Tower Violations & Penalties

There are five key steps or milestones in the assessment, issuance and satisfaction of NYC Cooling Tower Violations and Penalties:

  1. Formal Cooling Tower Inspection –  Inspectors from the Department of Health’s Office of Building Water Supply Oversight (OBWSO) will visit every residential and commercial facility with a cooling tower in the Five Boroughs of New York this year. They will conduct investigations of building water supply and distribution systems including cooling towers, water tanks, evaporative condensers, internal plumbing and waste water systems throughout each facility. They may collect environmental samples for testing, conducting water quality analysis including water quality measurements and they will review building maintenance programs and plans for building cooling tower systems to ensure compliance. Depending on the facility and their findings, these visits can take many hours or additional visits to complete.
  1. Inspection Summary Report (ISR) –  After conducting their initial inspection, the OBWSO Inspector will trigger their Inspection Summary Report. In most cases this report will be delivered electronically on the same day that the inspection is completed. The ISR will be delivered to the email address that the Department of Buildings has on file that was used to register the cooling tower online via the NYC Cooling Tower Registration Portal. The ISR lists the codes of law and whether the facility is Compliant or in Violation. This initial report should be used by the building owner or manager to determine if anything needs to be prepared to answer any potential negative findings.
  1. Violation Deficiency Report (VDR) –  The ISR is sent to the in-house Compliance Team of the OBWSO who reviews it for accuracy and makes a final evaluation of the findings against the written laws. The OBWSO official findings are memorialized in the Violation Deficiency Report (VDR) which is also delivered electronically to the email address on record. The VDR is typically sent out within 30 days of the inspection and explains greater details about any violations that were noted during the inspection. Each section of the law that has a violation assessed will be noted on the VDR and the specific citation that triggered the violation will be explained in detail. Every citation will include a number of “Days to Cure,” which will either be 7, 3, or 0. If the citation has zero days to cure, the only thing you can do is address the issues that triggered the citation for future inspections. If the citation allows, 3 or 7 days to cure, you have that much time to upload remedial information via the Online Cooling Tower Registration Portal, and hopefully avoid a penalty for that specific infraction.

Cooling Tower VDR Violation Deficiency Report Sample

  1. Notice of Violation (Summons) –  Cooling Tower-related Summonses typically have a hearing date scheduled within the 30 to 60 days of receiving the Summons. They may also offer an option to mail-in a payment penalty for many of the potential infractions. Should you choose to pay the mail-in penalty, you will not have to attend the hearing. However, you will still be required to update your missing information/testing data to avoid future violations. You may also be required to attend the hearing and bypass the mail-in penalty, depending on the severity of the infraction. The Environmental Control Board (ECB) is an administrative law court where judges hear cases. Its operations are overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), which is the City’s central, independent administrative law court. OATH Hearing Officers hear cases on Notices of Violation (summonses) which charge a person with breaking rules or laws that protect the City’s environment, health or public safety.

It is important to note that if your Summons includes a Cure Date, then that is the Date by which the enforcement agency needs to process, accept and certify a Certificate of Correction in order for you to avoid your OATH hearing.  If no date is shown, your summons cannot be cured, and you are required to attend the OATH hearing.  If the “Must Appear” box is checked, and the respondent wants to fight the summons, then the Respondent must appear in person at the time, date, location and time of the scheduled OATH hearing.  If checked, this summons cannot be fought by mail, online, by phone or by webcam. 

In the event that you need to change the date of your hearing, you may request a different date by calling the OATH Hearings Division at 844-OATH-NYC (844-628-4692) before the scheduled hearing date. Each party may only make one (1) request to reschedule.

  1. Satisfying the Summons –  If a penalty is noted on your summons and the summons does not state that you must appear, you will have two options. You could either pay your penalties –  usually online, by mail or in person –  or you can contest your summons by participating in a hearing. If you pay your summons on or before the hearing date without having a hearing, you are admitting to the charge and you waive your right to a hearing. If you wish to fight a summons, you must do so on or before the hearing date listed on the summons. If you have a hearing and the Hearing Officer finds you in violation of the charges cited by the enforcement agency, you must pay that penalty, even if you wish to appeal the hearing officer’s finding.

If you did not pay before the hearing and you did not contest your summons by participating in a hearing, then you will be found in violation of the charge by a default and a higher penalty may be imposed.

If you participated in a hearing and a Hearing Officer found you in violation of the charges on the summons, you must pay the penalty imposed. OATH Hearing Officers do not have the discretion to alter or waive a penalty amount because all penalties are set by law. If you do not pay the imposed penalty, the City may file papers with the Civil Court of New York City and enter a judgment against you. The Department of Finance, the agency responsible for collecting money that is owed to the City, may also start collection activities.


Certificate of Correction

If you have received a Department of Buildings Summons (also known as Notice of Violation, violation or NOV) that includes a Commissioner’s order to correct the conditions(s). You may be required to certify the correction with the Department of Buildings Administrative Enforcement Unit (AEU) in order to clear the summons/violation from department records. A violation may continue to appear “open” in department records, even if you have attended the hearing or paid the imposed penalty until you submit acceptable proof that the violating condition(s) have been corrected. If required, you must correct all violating conditions in order to certify correction and resolve the violation. The Department accepts a Certificate of Correction any time after a violation is issued. Partial correction of the violation is not acceptable.

A Certificate of Correction is a form used to certify correction of a violation/summonses issued by Department of Buildings and scheduled for a hearing at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH)/Environmental Control Board (ECB).

If a Summons is eligible for a “cure,” you may be able to avoid a hearing and penalty. In order to do so, you must correct all violating conditions, submit an acceptable Certificate of Correction to the Department, and receive a Certificate of Correction Approval by the “CURE DATE” listed on your summons. A “CURE” is an admission of the charge(s) on the summons, a waiver of any and all defenses and a waiver of the ability to appeal the charge(s).

For more information of how to file a Certificate of Correction, please visit the NYC Department of Buildings’ website.


Understanding Your Summons


Long Form Summons

Summons Number – The unique number to identify a particular summons.

Enforcement Agency – the agency that wrote the summons and filed it at the OATH Hearings Division for a hearing.

Respondent – The person or entity that the City enforcement agency names as responsible for the summons and that is responsible for answering the summons.

Date of Occurrence – The date the charges on the summons were observed.

Place of Occurrence – The location where the charged offense took place.

Hearing Date – The date of scheduled hearing at the OATH Hearings Division.

Borough – The borough where the OATH hearing office is located.

Cure Date – Date by which the enforcement agency needs to process, accept and certify a Certificate of Correction in order for you to avoid the OATH hearing.  If no date is shown, your summons cannot be cured and you are required to attend the OATH hearing.

Must Appear – If this box is checked and the respondent wants to fight the summons, then the Respondent must appear in person at the time, date, location and time of the scheduled OATH hearing.  If checked, this summons cannot be fought by mail, online, by phone or by webcam.

Remedy – Explains how to come into compliance with the enforcement agency’s rules and regulations so that you are not issued another summons for the same offense in the future.

Provision of Law – The section of law or the rule that the respondent is charged with violating.

Infraction Code – Use this code to see if your summons is one that can be fought by mail, online, by phone or by webcam.

Recurring condition – If you have already been issued a summons for the same offense, it will be indicated here.

Violation Details – Contains the inspector’s detailed description of the conditions observed. Read this section carefully, since there may be multiple conditions included as part of the summons.

Remedy – Explains how to come into compliance with the enforcement agency’s rules and regulations so that you are not issued another summons for the same offense in the future.

How To Be In Compliance With The New York Cooling Tower Laws

While there are many parts to the New York State and City Cooling Tower Laws, the following is a list of the major requirements that must be fulfilled to be compliant: 

  1. Your cooling towers MUST be registered on both the New York City Cooling Tower Registration and New York State Cooling Tower Registration
  2. Your New York City Department of Buildings Cooling Tower Registration Number MUST be posted on a sign or plate that is securely fastened to the cooling tower/evaporative condenser. You should have one number per cooling tower system on your property.
  3. Your Cooling Tower Maintenance Program & Plan (MPP; also known as a Water Management Plan) MUST be in place. This plan needs to be developed by a “qualified person” and was required to be on-site by March 1st, 2016.
  4. Your cooling tower water treatment program must be in place at the time of startup. Your program must comply with your NYC Cooling Tower Maintenance Program and it must utilize daily automated blow down control and chemical feed.
  5. Your cooling towers MUST be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with your Maintenance Program and ASHRAE Standard 188 within 15 days of start-up. Cooling towers MUST be cleaned and disinfected as often as necessary as per Chapter 8 of Title 24 of The Rules of the City of New York, but no less than twice per year.
  6. You MUST have a qualified person perform a pre-startup inspection and take a legionella sample prior to starting up your cooling tower this cooling season. The sampling dates and test results must be entered in the log section of your Maintenance Program and Plan.
  7. A legionella sample must be taken at start up and then every 90 days while the cooling tower is operating. If your system runs seasonally, the first test must be taken before start up. IMPORTANT: Ninety 90 days means 90 days –  not three months!
  8. A qualified person must conduct a cooling tower inspection every 90 days while the tower is in operation.
  9. A qualified person must conduct a yearly Compliance Inspection. The yearly certification must be submitted to the City via the online cooling tower portal.
  10. You MUST have testing supplies on-site and, in New York City, someone on your team must be trained to and responsible for taking manual water quality tests at least three times per week (with no more than two days between tests) and biological tests (dip slide tests) at least once per week. The water quality test results must reflect pH, temperature, conductivity, and biocidal indictors present in the cooling tower (open condenser) water. If there is no one on your team to that can perform these mandatory duties, there are approved methods to automate the water quality tests; however, the biological indicator tests must still be run weekly. The tower must be inspected weekly by someone on your on-site team and any issues must be noted in your log book.

If you need any help with these tasks, contact us for a FREE Cooling Tower Inspection and NYC Cooling Tower Compliance Quote. We offer comprehensive Cooling Tower Contracts that keep you compliant with the law. Our contracts include licensed chemical service, cooling tower cleanings, legionella testing, all testing supplies, a custom Maintenance Program & Plan, and much more.

The Legal Stuff

Please be aware: Clarity Water Technologies is not responsible for the accuracy or implementation of this document. This document, NYC Cooling Tower Violations: A Guide to Understanding Your Inspection Summary Report and the Violation Deficiency Report, is for information purposes only. By using this document in ANY way, you are hereby agreeing to fully defend, indemnify and hold harmless Clarity Water Technologies from and against any and all losses, claims, suits or other legal liability and legal expenses of any nature imposed upon or brought against them by reason of any act or omission of Clarity Water Technologies or its agents or employees that may arise in use of this document.

As always, thank you for reading!

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