A History of Tenement House Legislation in New York 1852-1900 Part XIII
 

By Lawrence Veiller
 
 
(1899) The Building Code (An ordinance adopted December 20, 1899.)
Section 103. "


No person shall at any time place any encumbrance of any kind whatsoever before or upon any fire escape, balcony or ladder. It shall be the duty of every fireman and policeman who shall discover any fire escape Balcony or ladder of any fire escape encumbered in any way, to forthwith report the same to the commanding officer of his company or precinct, and such commanding officer shall forthwith cause the occupant of the premises or apartment to which said fire escape, balcony or ladder is attached or for whose use the same is provided, to be notified, either verbally or in writing, to remove such encumbrance and keep the same clear. If said notice shall not be complied with by the removal, forthwith, of such encumbrance, and keeping said fire escape, balcony or ladder free from encumbrance, then it shall be the duty of said commanding officers to apply to the nearest police magistrate for a warrant for the arrest of the occupant or occupants of the said premises or apartment of which the fire escape forms a part, and the said parties shall be brought before the said magistrate, as for a misdemeanor ; and, on conviction, the occupant or occupants of said premises or apartment shall be fined not more than $10 for each offense, or may be imprisoned not to exceed ten days, or both, in the discretion of the court. In constructing all balcony fire escapes, the manufacturer thereof shall securely fasten thereto, in a conspicuous place, a cast iron plate having suitable raised letters on the same, to read as follows : Notice : ' Any person placing any encumbrance on this balcony is liable to a penalty of ten dollars and imprisonment for ten days.' "

STAIRWAYS AND PUBLIC HALLS, CONSTRUCTION OF. After the providing of means of egress for persons in case of fire, the next important provision to be enacted is naturally one requiring those portions of the buildings through which persons would pass in the course of such egress to be made safe.

The first law in reference to the construction of public stairways and public halls was enacted in 1867, by an amendment to the general building laws passed in that year. This law required that in all dwelling houses intended to be occupied by four families or more, thereafter to be erected, all stairs should be constructed of stone or iron, and the floor beams of the halls were to be of iron with brick arches turned between them.

In the following year this requirement was considerably modified, fireproof stairs or halls not being required in new buildings, provided that such buildings did not contain more than two families on any floor, and provided, further, that they did not exceed four stories in height and that the stairs in them continued to the roof and had proper bulkheads, and that the rooms on each floor connected by doors from front to rear, and that the buildings were equipped with proper fire-escapes ; otherwise, the halls and stairs and hall partitions from the cellar to the roof were to be constructed fireproof. In 1871 this section was again amended to the effect that no building should thereafter be erected or altered to be occupied by more than six families, unless the halls, stairs, and hall partitions were constructed fireproof. These provisions were repealed in 1874.

In 1885, in an amendment to the general building laws, the requirements in reference to this subject were again changed, the new law requiring that in all dwelling and apartment houses over 60 feet in height thereafter erected or altered, and which were arranged to be occupied by two or more families on any floor above the first, the halls and stairs should be enclosed with brick walls, and the floors, stairs and ceilings of the halls should be made entirely fireproof ; and the stairs should extend to the roof and end in a bulkhead of fireproof material. This provision was reenacted in 1887 with very slight change, it simply being extended to all dwelling houses over five stories in height erected or altered after July 5, 1887, and which were arranged to be occupied by two or more families on any floor above the first. In 1892 the building laws were materially amended, and the provisions of the law of 1887 were changed so as to apply to all tenement houses thereafter erected, arranged for one or more families on any floor instead of two or more families, and which also were over five stories in height. The law, however, permitted the flooring and the sleepers underneath the flooring, in the halls, to be made of wood, and the treads and hand-rails of the stairs also to be made of hard wood. An additional clause, however, was further added to this section, requiring that when the hallways and stairs were placed centrally in or back from the front line of the building, a hallway enclosed in brick walls should be provided on the first story, connecting the public halls with the street. In 1895 the tenement house law was again modified ; this law, among other things, provided that in new tenement houses or buildings thereafter altered for the purposes of a tenement house, where such buildings were over live stories high above the cellar, and where they also contained as many as four suites of rooms on a floor, then all staircases should be fireproof throughout. In all other tenement houses thereafter erected or altered over three stories in height above the cellar, the entrance hall and the entire stair well and the stairs were required to be built of semi-fire-proof or slow-burning construction, it being left discretionary with the Superintendent of Buildings what the form of such construction should be. In such buildings it was also provided that no wainscoting should be allowed in the hallways, except of cement or other fireproof material, but it permitted the hand-rails and banisters of the stairs to be of hard wood.

There was a further provision that on the second floor of all tenement houses, that were not fireproof throughout, the stairs and public halls should be shut off from the private halls and other parts of the house by double-swinging fireproof doors, and that such doors should be locked every night not later than ten o'clock. Presumably the object of this section was to confine the spread of fire to the public hallway and stairs and keep it from the other parts of the building. The law, however, was so framed that it was impossible of enforcement, and, as a result, was repealed in the Greater New York Charter, enacted two years later. The Charter also made some other slight changes of no great importance. The provisions of the Charter, which are practically the provisions of the law of 1895, are the present law upon this subject, with also the provisions of section 53 of the Building Code, a local ordinance. The Building Code provides that in all new tenement houses over five stories in height, or having five stories and a basement above the cellar, the halls and stairs shall be enclosed in brick walls, and that the floors, stairs and ceilings in these halls and stairways shall be made of iron, steel, brick, stone, tile, cement or other hard incombustible material. The law, however, permits the flooring and the sleepers underneath the flooring to be of wood, and the hand-rails of the stairs to be of hard wood, and the treads of the stairs to be oak not less than 1 1/2 inches thick. There is a further provision that in such buildings there shall be a hallway in the first story enclosed in fireproof walls leading to the street.

(1867) Chapter 939, Section 10.

" In all dwelling houses intended to be occupied by four families or more, that shall hereafter be erected in the said city, all stair s shall be of stone or iron, and the floor beams of halls shall be of iron with brick arches turned between them."

(1868) Chapter 634, Section 2. (Amends Section 10, Chapter 939, Laws of 1867.)

" All buildings that shall be hereafter erected or built to contain not more than two families on any of the floors above the first story, and which does not exceed four stories in height, may be built without fireproof stairs or halls, provided the stairs continue to the roof and have proper bulkheads and ventilators, and all the rooms connect by doors from front to rear, and also provided that a practical fireproof escape is attached to said buildings that shall be approved of by the Superintendent of Buildings. In all dwelling houses built to contain more families than are provided for in this section the halls, stairs and hall partition walls, from the cellar to the roof, shall be constructed fireproof, and the stairs shall continue to the roof with proper bulkhead and ventilators."

(1871) Chapter 625, Section 28.

" And no building shall be erected or altered to be occupied by more families than as hereinbefore provided for in this section (six families) unless the partitions and stairs shall be constructed fireproof."

(1874) Chapter 547, Section 7. Repealed.

(1885) Chapter 456, Section 21. (Amends Section 492, Consol. Act.)

" All dwelling houses which are known as tenement or apartment houses, which are arranged for or occupied by two or more families on any floor above the first exceeding 6O feet in height, which may be hereafter built, or buildings which may be hereafter altered to be occupied as above stated, shall have the halls and stairs enclosed with 12 inch brick walls, and the floors, stairs and ceilings of the halls shall be made wholly of iron, brick, stone, slate or marble. The stairs of said houses shall extend to the roof and be enclosed with a bulkhead built entirely of fireproof materials, as hereinbefore provided."

(1887) Chapter 566, Section 26. (Amends Section 499, Consol. Act.)

"Every dwelling-house exceeding 5 stories in height hereafter erected or altered (July 5th, 1887) to be occupied by 2 or more families on any floor above the first, and every dwelling house over 60 feet in height hereafter erected or altered to be occupied by more than 1 family, shall have the halls and stairs enclosed with 12 inch brick walls. The floors, stairs and ceilings in said halls and stairways shall be made wholly of iron, brick, stone or other hard incombustible materials, and at least one flight of such stairs in each of said buildings shall extend to the roof and be enclosed in a bulkhead built of fireproof materials."

(1892) Chapter 275, Section 16. (Amends Section 480, Consol. Act.)

" Every tenement house, apartment house and dwelling house hereafter erected or altered to be occupied by one or more families on any floor above the first, exceeding five stories in height, or having a basement and five stories in height above the cellar, shall have the halls and stairs enclosed with twelve inch brick walls. The floors, stairs and ceilings in said halls and stairways shall be made of iron, brick, stone, or other hard incombustible materials, excepting that the flooring and sleepers underneath the same may be of wood, and the treads and handrails of the stairs may be of hard wood, provided that where wooden treads are used the underside of the stairs shall be entirely lathed with iron or wire lath and plastered thereon, or covered with metal. At least one flight of such stairs in each of said buildings shall extend to the roof, and be enclosed in a bulkhead built of fireproof materials. When the said hallways and stairways are placed centrally in, or back from the front line of the building, a connecting fireproof hallway enclosed with brick walls shall be provided on the first story and extend to the street."

 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A History of Tenement House Legislation in New York 1852-1900 Part XIII
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Tenement House Problem; Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900. By Various Writers; The MacMillan Company-New York 1903
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