New York City's building code is a complex set of documents, regulations, amendments, "letters," and local laws regulating every aspect of building construction and maintenance from window specifications, boiler maintenance, elevators, exterior walls, and even paint - it's a massive body of material that more often than not takes an expert to interpret.
"The current New York City Building Code was enacted in 1968, and is one of the most stringent codes in the country," says Jennifer Givner, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). "It's also considered one of the most convoluted." And Givner should know, because it's the DOB that has the authority to enforce and interpret the code as it applies directly to the city's residential buildings. The 2003 edition of the code, which is basically an administrative update of all local laws and regulations that have passed since 1968, was released to the public earlier this year.
According to architect Richard Ferrara of the Brooklyn firm of Delacour and Ferrara, New York City is the proving ground for building regulations that may be put to use in less densely populated parts of the state. "Even state [building] laws go through the city," says Ferrara. "It's true of every city that has more than a certain level of population."
But it's actually even more complicated than that, Ferrara continues. Some areas concerning minor alterations might actually be grandfathered in and go according to the old 1938 building code, he says.
Currently, New York City is trying to adopt yet another code - the International Building Code, or IBC - with modifications tailored to New York City. But more about that later.