Tab Batts was astonished Friday to hear that Stamford officials want to give the city authority to ensure that elevators are maintained.
Batts thought the city already had that authority.
But, in fact, city representatives Thursday took up the initial draft of an ordinance that would establish and enforce rules for the safe and quick repair of elevators in residential buildings, and set accountability standards for building owners.
Batts may be one of the reasons city officials are pursuing an ordinance – among tenants of the multiple high-rises in Stamford’s South End, he’s “that guy who was in the elevator when it fell.”
They may not know his name, but they know his story.
Batts said he was hurt in July when an elevator at Allure, a 22-story apartment building in the Harbor Point development, suddenly dropped from just below the seventh floor, where Batts lives with his wife, to the fourth floor.
According to Batts, the elevator jumped and bounced and banged then went out from under his feet, Batts said. His body slammed against the elevator ceiling then slammed into the elevator floor when it landed. He injured his head, neck, back, knee, and more. For eight months he’s been in and out of the hospital, filled many prescriptions for pain medication, and may be facing knee surgery, the 60-year-old said.
It’s a kick in the gut to learn that Stamford is only now considering cracking down on elevator maintenance, he said.
“I’m from New York City and I used to be a building super. Someone would show up with that little blue card that said ‘New York City inspector,’ sometimes randomly, and say, ‘I want to inspect your elevators,’” Batts said. “I thought they had something like that just about everywhere. It’s very, very surprising to hear that’s not the way they do things in Connecticut.”
In a December memo, Stamford Director of Operations Matt Quinones, who is seeking the ordinance, asked the city law department for advice on how to craft it.
The problem is that a significant number of complaints about elevators come into the city’s building and health departments, Quinones wrote, and are forwarded to the state building inspector’s office, which is in charge of elevators.
But “the state has no authority to cite the owner of the building to get them to fix” elevators, Quinones wrote.
If an elevator is inoperable but safe, the state tells the city that “it is a tenant-landlord dispute, due to the lack of authority to respond,” Quinones wrote. “The person making the complaint has now gone full circle with no help.”
A senior advisor to the state Department of Administration Services commissioner has said that only incidents that result in injury or death, or present a danger to life or property, must be reported to the state.
It’s up to building owners or managers to report incidents, the advisor said, and there is no penalty if they don’t. For more serious incidents, the state will contact the building owner or maintenance company to determine whether an investigation is needed.
“The state building inspector has informed us the issue is up to the local town to have an ordinance that allows us to enforce action on the building owner to keep the elevators operating,” Quinones wrote in his memo.
So he presented a draft ordinance Thursday night before the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety Committee.
Quinones went armed with an opinion from Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Toma, who advised that “the city may legally adopt an ordinance which enacts fines for inoperable elevators” because a Connecticut statute “authorizes ordinances to protect the public’s safety and welfare, and making efforts to keep elevators operating falls within this statute’s scope.”
The ordinance would require that building owners adhere to maintenance schedules set by industry standards, which they would have to produce at the request of the city’s chief building official. Under the state building code, each elevator owner must obtain a certificate of operation, which must be posted inside the elevator, that is valid for 12 months.
The ordinance, as drafted, would apply to any residential building with at least one elevator. When an elevator will be out of service for repairs, the owner would have to post a notice near the door and inform each tenant by note or email 24 hours in advance. The owner also would have to notify the city’s Emergency Communications Center and chief building official.
The owner would have three days to repair a broken elevator. After that, there would be a penalty of $250 per day, unless owners can demonstrate that a delay is beyond their control.
The ordinance would apply only to buildings with residential units, not commercial buildings, Toma told city representatives Thursday.
City Rep. Phil Berns raised a question about condominiums, where residents own their units. Berns wanted to know whether individual condo owners would be fined.
No, Toma said.
“The legal owner is the condominium association, which collects fees from individual owners and uses that for operating expenses,” Toma said. “The condominium association would receive the fine.”
Berns said he thinks the management company should be fined.
“The ordinance was written to be broad to allow this committee to decide where it might want to limit its applicability,” Toma said. “So all of that is open to discussion.”
“It might make more sense to take this back to the drawing board,” Berns said.
The committee took his advice, voting to hold the ordinance until next month so that part can be added.
Batts said he has more advice for the committee. Building managers can be just as unresponsive as the state about elevator complaints, Batts said. The ordinance should include a city hall contact for tenants and post it in elevators, he said.
“They will be the first to report it, you can rest assured,” Batts said. “And after the building says it’s fixed, the city should send someone to check.”
City Rep. Jeff Stella, chair of the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety Committee, said he will look into that. Stamford has to face the fact that, in the last decade, it has become a city of high-rise apartment buildings, he said.
“There are more elevators than ever; our laws and rules have to grow with the change,” Stella said. “If we have a system where authorities get notified only when someone gets hurt, that’s not a good system. We should be in the business of preventing people from getting hurt, not waiting for them to get hurt.”
Tenants of multiple buildings have contacted Connecticut Examiner to say they are fearful of elevators that make loud noises, jerk up and down, are repeatedly broken, and trap people until firefighters arrive to rescue them. Stamford Fire Department records show that, between January 2021 and January 2023, there were 389 reports of persons stuck in elevators citywide – an average of about one call every other day.
Batts, who lost his job as a package delivery driver because of painful injuries and is consulting a lawyer, said Stamford has to act like a city with a lot of elevators.
“They have to do something. They can’t sit and do nothing when people are having the experiences they are having,” Batts said. “You allow these builders to do business in this city without repercussions for this? Anybody with any level of common sense would know that just isn’t right.”