Removing Old Cables is Costly But Who Pays?

Christine Perez, Staff Writer


GREATER METROPLEX -- New codes that govern the installation of electrical systems are beginning to wreak havoc on local office-lease deals. The 2002 National Electric Code, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires the removal of abandoned cables in commercial buildings whenever changes to the systems are made.

"If the cables are not terminated at both ends to a connector or other equipment, and if they're not tagged for future use, they're considered abandoned and they have to come out," said Randy Thompson, senior director of program and management service at Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. "Tenants who think they can go into a building and just put in new cabling or use what's there have got a big surprise waiting for them."

Thompson said the situation is starting to create friction between tenants and landlords as they wrestle with who is responsible for paying for the removal.

"It's an unexpected cost that hasn't been an issue before and both sides are looking to the other to cover it," he said. "It can run into tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases, much more than that."

The NEC codes, developed by the National Fire Protection Agency, are adopted by U.S. states and enforced by city and county fire marshals. The new code, 800.52B, applies to all sorts of cables -- electric and telecom, both copper and fiber. Older versions of these cables are wrapped in materials that include toxins, which burn off into the air in the event of fire. The development of the code was in the works before 9/11, but the resulting fires and the environmental hazards they left behind sped its adoption along, Thompson said.

Throughout the years, old cables usually were left behind in plenum spaces as new wiring was installed.

"If you go into any high-rise building and pop up a ceiling tile you'll find literally hundreds and hundreds of cables just stacked up on top of each other," said Brian Farragut, vice president of Dallas-based Admiral Communications, an electrical contractor. "Some of the ceiling tiles bulge downward because of the weight of the cables on top."

The cables are supposed to have identification marks on each end, but few do, which could cause a liability problem for cabling contractors, Farragut said.

"It's a very labor-intensive, complicated process," he said. "If you have a tenant moving into the 30th floor of a building, you can't just go in and start cutting cables. You could cut a wrong piece of fiber and wipe out another tenant's network. The liability issue scares some vendors."

The codes apply to cables in both horizontal and vertical spaces. The requirement is complicated by the fact that some of the wires are owned by Internet service providers, which installed cables in vertical spaces and leased connections to various tenants within the buildings.

"Some of these companies are in bankruptcy," Thompson said. "So the fire marshal says it has to go, the tenant looks to the landlord to get rid of it, and the landlord says, 'We can't touch it, because we don't own it.' When you start peeling the onion back, you can find an impossible situation."

At some point, removal of abandoned cable likely will become the vacating tenant's responsibility, said John Petty, executive director of Dallas-based Acuity Associates, a technology consulting company.

"This issue has not yet become widely known, so new tenants are finding themselves in a quandary," he said. "Companies need to know about it before their leases are done. And from this point going forward, people moving out will find they can't just leave it behind for the landlord."

Thompson said Cushman & Wakefield brokers have made cable removal a standard negotiating point on their leases. He said the issue could cause some leases to fall through.

Contact DBJ writer Christine Perez at or (214) 406-7120.

2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Mike Holt Enterprises,Inc.
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