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

By Lawrence Veiller
(1895) — Chapter 567, So -non 8. (Amends Section 661, Consol. Act.)

" In all tenement houses hereafter constructed, or buildings hereafter converted to the purposes of a tenement house, all staircases shall be fireproof; but this provision as to staircases shall not apply to buildings which are not over 5 stories high above the cellar, and which contain not more than three suites of rooms on a floor. Every tenement house hereafter constructed, or buildings hereafter converted to the purposes of a tenement house, which building exceeds three stories in height or has basement with three stories above the cellar, shall have the entrance hall and entire stairwell and stairs built of [such] slow burning construction of fireproof material [as the superintendent of buildings shall decide] ; also no wainscoting shall be allowed in the main halls except of cement, or other fireproof material; [excepting that the hand-rails and balusters can be of hard wood]; at least one flight of such stairs shall extend to the roof and be enclosed in a bulkhead building of fireproof material; [on second floor of all tenement-houses not fireproof throughout all entrances from stairs to halls shall be closed off with fireproof double swing doors; it shall be the duty of the owner or lessee of such tenement-house to have said door on second floor closed every night at not later than 10 o'clock]."

(1897) —Chapter 378, Greater New York Charter, Section 1318. Matter in brackets above, omitted.

(1899) —The Building Code —(An ordinance adopted December 20, 1899.) Section 53.

" All non-fireproof apartment-houses and tenement-houses exceeding five stories in height, or having a basement and five stories in height above a cellar, shall be constructed as in this section before described, and shall also have the halls and stairs enclosed with 12 inch brick walls. Eight inch brick walls not exceeding 50 feet in their vertical measurement, may enclose said halls and stairs, and be used as bearing walls where the distance between the outside bearing walls does not exceed 33 feet, and the area between the said brick enclosure walls does not exceed 180 superficial feet . The floors, stairs and ceilings in said halls and stairways shall be made of iron, steel, brick, stone, tile, cement, or other hard  tile materials, excepting that the flooring and sleepers underneath the same may be of wood and the hand-rails of the stairs may be of hard wood, and the treads may be of oak not less than 1 and 5-8 of an inch in thickness, provided that where such wooden treads are used the under side of the stairs shall be entirely enclosed with iron or with 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. The said halls and stairways shall have a connecting fireproof hallway enclosed with suitable walls of brick, or such other fireproof materials including the ceiling in all cases as may be approved by the Commissioner of Buildings having jurisdiction, in the first story and extend to the street."

HALLWAYS AND STAIRWAYS, REGULATIONS FOR CONSTRUCTION OF. — Since 1867 the Superintendent of Buildings has had discretionary power to make regulations to determine the method of constructing halls and stairways. This power was without limitation until in 1885, when it was added that such regulations should not be inconsistent with the provisions of the existing statutes upon the subject.

(1867) — Chapter 939, Section 10.

" In all tenement-houses that shall hereafter be erected in said city, the superintendent of buildings shall have power in determining the method of constructing halls and stairways."

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

(1871) —Chapter 626, Section 28. — Continued. (1874) —Chapter 647, Section 7. — Continued.

(1882) — Chapter 410, Section 499. (Consol. Act.) — Continued.

Power to make regulations transferred from the Superintendent of Buildings to the Fire Department.

(1892) —Chapter 275, Section 35. —Section 499 repealed.

(1895) —Chapter 567, Section 8. (Amends Section 661, Consol. Act.)

"The superintendent of buildings is hereby empowered and directed to make rules and regulations not inconsistent with the requirements of this title, and which in addition to the requirements of this title shall be the conditions of approval for the plans and permits; these rules and regulations shall govern the arrangement and distribution of the uncovered area, size, lighting, location and arrangement of shafts, rooms, cellars and halls, and may be modified or changed from time to time by the superintendent of buildings."

HALL PARTITIONS, CONSTRUCTION OF. — It is, of course, useless to make provisions requiring hallways to be fireproof unless the partitions separating such hallways from the other parts of the house are similarly made safe. This has been recognized since 1867, when the first law in reference to safe egress was enacted. In that year it was provided that in all dwelling houses intended to be occupied by four families or more thereafter erected, the hall partitions from the foundation to the roof should be constructed of brick not less than 12 inches thick. This important provision of the law was very much weakened by an amendment passed in the following year, which permitted tenement houses that were not over four stories in height, and which were arranged for not more than two families on a floor, to be erected without such fireproof stairs or walls. This, however, was only permitted upon condition that the building should have stairs leading to the roof; that the rooms on each floor should connect by doors from front to rear, and that the building should be provided with proper fire- escapes. In all new tenement houses built to contain more than eight families, the partition walls from the cellar to the roof were required to be constructed fireproof. In 1871 this provision was again amended; in new tenements, which were over three stories in height and which were arranged for from three to six families, the hall partitions from front to rear, from the cellar to the bottom of the second story floor beams, were required to be built of brick, and in all tenement houses erected to contain more than six families above the first story, these partitions were required to be constructed fireproof. In 1874 these most important provisions were entirely repealed, and there was no law whatsoever upon this subject until 1885. The law of 1885 provided that in all new tenements, over 60 feet in height and arranged for more than two families on any floor above the first, the halls and stairs should be enclosed in 12-inch brick walls. Two years later this law was changed so as to make it apply to any new tenement house over 0O feet in height, arranged for more than one family on a floor instead of two. In 1892 this provision was substantially reenacted. In 1895 the tenement house law was again changed ; among other things, it was provided that in new tenement houses over three stories in height, or three stories and basement in height, the entire stair well and stairs and entrance hall should be built of slow-burning construction or fireproof material, it being left discretionary with the Commissioner of Buildings what such material should lx-. It was also provided that there should be no fanlight or window placed in the partition or interior wall between the public hall and private hall of any tenement house which was not fireproof, or in the partition between the public hallway and rooms, so as to prevent the spread of fire from the hall to the rooms, and, also, from the rooms to the hall.

The Charter reenacted that part of the law of 1895 requiring the hallway to be built semi-fireproof or of slow-burning construction, but repealed the provisions of the previous law prohibiting the placing of transoms and windows in the partitions between the public hallways and upper halls and rooms. In the building Code, an ordinance adopted in 1899, it is provided that in all non-fireproof tenement houses thereafter erected which are over five stories in height, the halls and stairs shall be enclosed in 12-inch brick walls. This, with the provisions of the Charter, constitutes the present law upon the subject.


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


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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