NYS Exposed: The one law adding $10,000 to the cost of a new home

November 09, 2017 06:26 PM

It's an old law that critics say is driving up the cost of building a new home in New York and the price of public construction projects paid for by you, the taxpayer.

It's called the Scaffold Law and has been on the books since the late 19th century. But with a major political figure, many argued was behind the push to keep this law, now gone is there any hope it will be reformed?


Pat Taney tackled that question in our latest New York State Exposed report.

Greg Hotaling is in the process of building a home in Chili. "Like any homebuilding project, it's not without its bumps and bruises," he said.

One big issue is a sticker shock in the price!
"I've been told this will add $10,000 off the bat to my home price. So it's going to cost anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000 over the life of my loan," Hotaling said.

He can thank the scaffold law.

It's been on the books in New York State since the late 19th century. Its purpose is to protect workers on construction sites.

"It was developed in 1885 as a result of people getting hurt building skyscrapers in New York City," said home builder Bernie Iacovangelo. It was created before OSHA and before workman's compensation.

Back then it made sense, but critics say now it's driving up insurance costs on nearly every single construction project -- public and private.

Here's how it works.

If a worker on a construction site is injured and the work site was even one percent responsible, the contractor pays 100 percent of damages. That's even if, let’s say, that worker was drunk or impaired by drugs.

"No matter how the worker has conducted themselves it doesn't matter." Iacovangelo said. For years there have been several attempts to get rid of it but year after year, those attempts have been killed.

Critics have long blamed former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who we told you in a past News10NBC investigation, had ties to law firms benefiting from the law. But he's gone now following his arrest for corruption. So is there any hope to reform this law with him out of the picture?

We brought that question to N.Y.S. Assembly member Joe Morelle, (D) Irondequoit.

Taney: Will that change anything? 
Morelle: He's been out of the picture for quite a while now and I have often said you can't pin the lack of scaffold reform on one single person. It hasn't passed in the Senate, which is Republican-controlled. It hasn't passed the Assembly or the Governor's office either.

Morelle has introduced legislation to reform the law for years.

"Unfortunately it has not gotten very far in the Senate or the Assembly," he said. Few believe there's a chance the law will go away completely. But Morelle wants a compromise.

"I think it ought to be one where your liability is limited by the percentage whatever you contributed to the accident and that's called comparative negligence." Morelle said.

Reform the governor has said he would support. So we went to him to see if he will push for it this legislative session.
Cuomo: We'll try again. 
News10NBC: Do you have a stance either way? 
Cuomo: You're going to have to compromise. The bill is not going to be binary. You're going to have to compromise otherwise it's not going to happen.

But not everyone wants a compromise.
"We will continue to fight back and protect the lives of working men and women,” said Mario Cilento. He's the president of AFL-CIO,  a powerful union that lobbies hard to keep the scaffold law intact.
"It's really very important to the safety for working men and women. Whether they are in a union or not," he said.

Supporters of the scaffold law claim it has made work sites in New York the safest in the country. Cilento says it holds builders much more accountable to make sure safety standards, on work sites, are at the highest level.

"For us, it's making sure that working men and women are whole at the end of the day and it's very unfortunate that people would put a price tag on the life of a worker." Cilento said.

As for Hotaling, who again is not happy about the added costs to his new home, he wants the workers building his home protected but thinks there needs to be a compromise to lower costs.

"It's just kind of silly that we are using an archaic law," he said.

There are still active attempts to reform the law in Albany and Morelle says it will be discussed again this session in committees. Similar legislation in the past was also discussed in committees but has not, in recent years, been brought to an actual vote on either the Senate or Assembly floor.

People who want the law reformed are hoping this year will be different but remain doubtful given the powerful lobbying from both unions and trial lawyers who support the law.


If the scaffold reform bill is brought to a vote this session, we asked every single lawmaker that represents you how he or she would vote. Click Here to see how they responded.


Pat Taney

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