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A new report confirms all of your worst fears about New York’s elevators

Written by
Clayton Guse

New York is chock-full of elevators. There are more than 84,000 of them operating in buildings across the five boroughs, according to the city's Department of Buildings (DOB). They’re a vital aspect of New York’s infrastructure—they make skyscrapers possible—but they’re also the stuff of nightmares. Anyone who’s ridden in a shaky, malfunctioning or suspicious lift is well-versed in the fear that they’re capable of inspiring. 

Earlier this month, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office released a report that justifies many of the fears that New Yorkers hold about the city’s elevators. From shoddy inspections to worn-down cables, it found that the measures put in place to keep the city safe are often ignored. 

DiNapoli’s office looked into the practices undertaken by the DOB, which inspects a fraction of the city’s elevators and oversees the inspection of the others done by third-party companies. They audited a sample of 12 elevators across nine different buildings and came back with some troubling findings. Two non-DOB inspectors had signed inspection certificates despite not having inspected the elevators at all. Another three of those inspectors failed to identify defective door restrictors, which can cause a door to open between floors—a similar set of circumstances that led to a Brooklyn mother and her infant child falling into an elevator shaft in 2016. 

What's more, the report found two instances of non-DOB inspectors failing to note rouging (or abrasions) on elevator hoist cables. One of those inspectors completely missed the damage. The other simply forgot the tool to measure the diameter of the cables. So that's reassuring. 

Other mishaps noted in the report include non-DOB inspectors overlooking a broken elevator emergency telephone, an expired fire extinguisher, and maintenance schedules and logs that were missing entirely. The report says that the DOB has chalked all of this up to contracted inspectors being more lax with their policies than the department itself, which is troubling considering that every elevator in New York is one malfunction away from turning into a metal death box. 

In the report, DiNapoli's office recommends that the city take measures against shoddy inspectors, ranging from steeper fines to tighter regulations. Still, the findings merely confirm what every New Yorker fears when they step into an elevator: The cold release of death may be imminent. 

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