← Back

Our Wishlist for the Next Buildings Commissioner

The Department of Buildings is crucially important in a building-mad city.

As Mayor De Blasio slowly fills the many leadership positions in a mammoth city government, those of us invested in preservation and development have been waiting for two announcements in particular: of a new Landmarks Preservation Commission chair, which happened today, and of a new Department of Buildings commissioner.

About the latter, there has been almost no buzz, no speculative “short list.” Yet the DOB chief could wield significant power to change the everyday experiences of residents, property owners and building professionals for better or worse.

So, Mayor De Blasio, we’d like to help you make up your mind. Here’s our wishlist of priorities for the next commish, every bit as focused on the little guy as you claim to be. The DOB commissioner should:

1) Robustly enforce the laws as written, including training the plan examiners on substantive code matters and allowing them the time and resources to enforce them. Currently architects self-certify their work, stipulating that their plans conform to city code — which reduces DOB workload, but means that any errors that later need to be corrected are literally set in stone. DOB has other disincentives, too, including being embarrassed, or open to litigation, if an approved — i.e. rubber-stamped — permit is revoked.

One down, one to go: newly nominated LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, an urban planner, has served as chairwoman of the Board of Standards and Appeals for a decade.

2) Perform more audits of architects’ self-certifications. There are bad actors out there, architects who cater to unscrupulous landlords. These figures should be identified, audited, and subject to steep fines and penalties for misrepresentations enabling non-code-conforming construction to take place.

3) Institute real-time enforcement of violations. At present, you can call 311 several times to report unpermitted construction on a Saturday, and have an inspector come out (if at all) a week later on a Tuesday. That’s a waste. DOB must commit resources to inspection and enforcement in a timely and meaningful manner. As in #2, targeted enforcement would help them keep up with the bad actors.

4) Reform the permitting process for after-hours work. No one wants to live next to a construction site where work is being allowed late at night or on weekends — especially if you have another such site nearby, or the work being performed at those times actually can wait. Rational reform of after-hours permits would more thoroughly scrutinize the situation before granting a permit.

5) Empower examiner supervisors to adapt goals to specific situations. Since the deadly 2008 crane collapse, some have observed DOB being more legally focused and less free to do on -the-ground “recons” or reconsiderations. For example, a property owner tells us that, with the current focus on gas line safety, he’s been instructed to re-plumb gas pipes to put them inside apartments — causing major headaches for tenants and vulnerability to old buildings — rather than fireproofing them in their existing hallway locations, which would achieve the same goal with less disruption all around.

What would you like to see from the next DOB Commissioner? Post a comment!


One response to “Our Wishlist for the Next Buildings Commissioner

  1. We at the Cooper Square Committee would also like DOB to carry out stricter enforcement during gut-renovation construction in rent-regulated buildings. In buildings with rent-regulated units, it’s the norm for landlords to overhaul empty units in order to convert them to market rate. Without safeguards, this can make life downright dangerous for the [often rent-regulated] tenants living through months of construction. Yet the other housing agencies (city HPD, state DHCR) frequently don’t get involved while construction is going on, and DOB doesn’t see itself as having authority over this kind of tenant harassment. Tenants’ health, welfare, and safety are being put at risk. We need DOB to act proactively and provide targeted enforcement for buildings that are undergoing mass gut-renovation construction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *