The process of filing a Work Permit in New York City can be time consuming, and it represents extra costs on top of the normal project budget, but there are two strong reasons to follow the formal procedures required by the Department of Buildings:
- Following the permitting and approval procedure makes sure the construction and its associated systems will not pose a risk for occupants, because it is impossible for an unqualified installer to legally complete a job. Most building systems have the potential to be hazardous for humans if not installed properly.
- Work Permits are required by law, and carrying out a project in secret hoping that the Department of Buildings will not find out can have negative consequences for all parties involved – both the property owner and the contractor may face legal consequences, and the contractor’s license can also be revoked.
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There are, however, scenarios where a property owner may end up with unpermitted work with no intention to deceive the NYC Department of Buildings. Some examples of this are the following:
- A home or business owner may purchase a property with unpermitted systems without being aware of it
- Some property modifications, especially aesthetical ones such as painting and most window upgrades, do not require a Work Permit. It is possible that work requiring a permit was carried out as part of a project where all other activities did not require it
In any case, the current owner of a building is responsible for legalizing any unpermitted work. Depending on the specific scenario, it may be possible to avoid or reduce civil penalties. Also, regardless of whether the property owner is exempted from penalties, it is necessary to carry out the entire permitting procedure as if the project was new, and any aspects of the existing installation that don’t meet applicable codes must be corrected.
Dealing with Civil Penalties When Legalizing Unpermitted Work
In its Article 213, the New York City Administrative Code establishes the following penalties for any work carried out without a permit:
- If the building is a one- or two-family dwelling, the civil penalty for unpermitted work is four times the fee that would have been normally paid for the permit, with a minimum value of $500
- In any other type of building, the penalty is 14 times the normal permitting cost, with a minimum value of $5000
If there is an applicable penalty, paying it is the first step for legalizing any unpermitted work – the subsequent steps can’t be carried out until this issue has been resolved, and the current building owner is responsible for it.
However, there are waivers and exemptions available. If the unpermitted work was carried out before the current owner acquired the property, and he or she can show proof of being a bona fide purchaser, the Department of Buildings may review the case and reduce or eliminate the penalty.
Code violations for a specific property can be viewed online at the Buildings Information Database, which is operated by the NYC Department of Buildings.
Unpermitted Work Assessment and Plans Approval
Even if the current building owner is granted an exemption on the civil penalty for unpermitted work, it is necessary to follow the normal permitting and approval procedure before the building can be granted legal status by the Department of Buildings.
First of all, it is necessary to assess the current state of unpermitted systems, a task that can only be carried out reliably by a licensed contractor who is familiarized with the applicable codes according to the type of work.
- If the unpermitted work is found to be of poor quality, failing to meet local codes, it will be necessary to correct it in order to legalize the property
- If no code violations are found, it is possible to legalize the work in its as-built state. However, unpermitted work that is fully code-compliant is a rare occurrence
In either case, it will be necessary to submit a set of construction plans for the NYC Department of Buildings, just like for new projects. Any modifications necessary to make the unpermitted work code-compliant must be reflected in the set of plans submitted.
It is also important to note that only a New York City Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA) can submit the construction plans for approval. There may be a series of revisions and modifications before the plans have been approved by the Dept. of Buildings, and after this point is reached, the contractor can apply for a Work Permit.
Modifications for Code Compliance
In most cases, it will be necessary to modify unpermitted systems to bring them up to the standards required by current codes – the property will only be granted a Certificate of Occupancy until the systems in thebuilding match the set of approved construction plants, and all civil penalties have been paid.
Once all necessary modifications have been carried out, the work must undergo a series of inspections to ensure code compliance. Other than the Department of Buildings, the work is normally inspected by the following authorities:
- Bureau of Electrical Control
- Department of Environmental Protection
- Department of Transportation
Once the work has passed all applicable inspections, an application for a Certificate of Occupancy must be submitted, and it must meet one of the following requirements:
- Signed by a Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA)
- Notarized by an official notary public
Once the NYC Department of Buildings has emitted the Certificate of Occupancy for the property, it can be considered to have legal status. The state of C.O. Applications can also be viewed in the Buildings Information System.
Avoiding Unpermitted Work
The above procedure should be followed for all NYC properties with unpermitted work, but at the end of the day, the best solution is avoiding this issue from the start. There are two main ways to accomplish this:
- Hire a qualified and licensed contractor whenever you will be carrying out work on an existing property. When you hire a top-level contractor, you are not only paying for the work to be done, but also for expertise and guidance – your contractor will immediately be able to tell the applicable permitting procedures for your project.
- If you are going to buy a property, carry out research on its status. If the previous owner knows the property has unpermitted systems, he or she is required by law to disclose it before the property is sold. If the owner does not have this information, you can check for code violations at the NYC Buildings Information System. Finally, if the latest construction plans are available, it is also possible to identify unpermitted work by comparing them with the current state of the property.
Just keep in mind that if you detect unpermitted work before purchasing a property, you are no longer eligible for a waiver or exemption because you would be purchasing the property while aware of the issue.