Red-Tape Free Navigating City Agencies

Some years ago, an acquaintance of ours worked as a “permit clerk” for a plumber while on summer vacation in college. The plumber would give him paperwork for a work project, he would go to the city offices, and, in theory, he would get the necessary permit. However, more and more often, the people behind the window would find fault in the proposal and send our friend back without the permit. Then, the head of the plumbing company would get angry, get on the phone and send him back a second time. After a few weeks, the young man left the job and took one in a store instead.

This story shows how important it is for co-op and condo boards and managers to deal with the city bureaucracy when doing major renovation projects. While the contractors they hire will hopefully be on top of the process, still, a basic knowledge is essential.

Know Your (Possible) Opponent

First, of course, one must know what city department you must deal with. In this article, we are concentrating on five types of projects: sidewalk repair, facade repair/renovation, elevator management, roof/repair replacement and interior projects (such as combining two separate apartments into a larger unit). In all of these except for sidewalk repair, which is handled by the Department of Transportation, or DOT, the agency to contact is the Department of Buildings, or DOB, according to DOB spokesperson Jennifer Givner. (If sidewalks or streets have to be closed during facade repair/renovation, though, boards and managers could also deal with DOT.)

There are different types of permits — for example, permits for elevator work must be filed with DOB’s Elevator Division through an elevator repair contractor, although DOB includes roofing work under general construction. DOB exempts what it calls “ordinary repairs” from permit requirements. But once you need a permit, the process is basically the same.

The applicant pre-files the application, including a complete set of drawings, energy calculations and, if necessary, asbestos forms, and pays the fee. The department reviews the plans, or the applicant professionally certifies the plans; and then DOB either approves or disapproves the permit. If DOB disallows the permit, then the agency staff and the applicant must get together to hash out their differences.

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