What is a building permit?  When do I need one?

A building permit is a permit issued by the government authorizing construction work.  Permit issuance ensures that construction is done safely and properly according to the New York City Building Code.  Almost all types of construction work need permits and approval from the Department of Buildings.  Only minor cosmetic work, like painting, cabinet installation, and plastering, does not.

What agencies issue permits?

Usually, the Department of Buildings (DOB) issues necessary permits.  However, permits may also be issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).

What happens if work is done without a permit?

At the very least, you’re looking at a fine.  For one and two family houses, the penalty is four times the amount of the permit filing fee, with the minimum fine being $500.  For all other types of work done without a permit, the fee is fourteen times the amount of the permit filing fee, with the minimum fine being $5,000.  If most of your work was done with a permit and only a certain portion without, you may request a fine reduction.

However, fines aren’t where the penalties stop.  If your constructed work doesn’t conform to code, the government may force you to renovate until it does conform, or, in the worst case scenario, require you to undo all of your work–at your own expense.

Long story short, you might think you’re saving money and time without acquiring proper permits, but it can end up being a much bigger hassle if you get caught.  Err on the side of caution.

How long does it typically take to get a permit?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this one.  Simply put, it depends on your project.  For simple projects, like doing some minor electrical work, it could be as quick as a week or two.  However, for more complicated projects or projects that involve approval from several government departments, getting everything approved can take six months or more.

How much do permits cost?

The Department of Buildings charges a flat fee of $165 for application submission, and then a filing fee based on a percentage of the estimated project’s cost.  Green Light Expediting charges a flat fee of $250 for permit pulling, regardless of the overall project cost.

How long is a building permit valid?

Permits expire if work isn’t begun within 12 months of its issuance.  Similarly, the permit can also become invalid if planned work has begun, but is later suspended for more than twelve months.

What happens if a code inspector fails to identify a problem in the plans?
Unfortunately, you’re not in the clear if the code inspector misses issues with your proposed work and consequently approves it.  If the plans are approved and the problem is caught later on, the Department of Buildings will mandate that you fix it anyway.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve already done the work.  You are considered responsible for making sure your plans are code compliant, not the code official, and the DOB will not issue waivers for violations their inspectors missed.

How do I find out the status of my building permit application?

You can check on the status of your application here by inputting your application number and other required information into the appropriate fields.  Your job will be assigned a letter detailing its current status (i.e., H for Plan Exam in Progress).  For a quick reference guide of what your job’s letter means, click here.

How do I submit revisions to my issued building permit?

If you’d like to make changes to an already issued permit, you must submit a Post-Approval Amendment (PAA). It should be noted that certain minor project changes do not require an LAA to be filed.

At what times of day does my permit allow me to do construction work?

Under a normal work permit, construction work can take place any time between 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday.  If you’d like to do work earlier or later in the day or on the weekends, you will need to apply for an additional permit called an “After Hours Variance,” which you can read more about here.

What is a Certificate of Occupancy?  How do I get one?

A Certificate of Occupancy is a government-issued document that specifies the legal use and/or occupancy of a given building.  For instance, a CO might designate a house as a two-family dwelling, rendering it illegal for the owners to rent out space to a third family.  A new CO is issued when a construction project will either create an entirely new building or change how an existing building will be occupied or used.

Without a CO, a new building can’t be legally occupied.  You can check your building’s CO using the Department of Building’s Building Information System.  Most buildings have one, but not all do.  Buildings built before 1938 that haven’t had any changes in use or additions may never have been issued one.  In the event that you need proof of legal use for an older building without a CO, you can obtain a “Letter of No Objection” from your borough’s Department of Buildings.

My building doesn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy!  Is my building illegal?

Nope!  Your building is just old.  COs only began to be issued after 1938, so buildings built before then that haven’t been modified since may not have one.  If your project needs a certificate of occupancy to proceed,  you may request a “Letter of No Objection” (LNO) from the Department of Buildings.  A LNO means what it states–the DOB has no objections to your changing the use, occupancy, or egress of a building.

When is a new Certificate of Occupancy (C&O) needed?

Any time proposed construction work involves the following changes, a new Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) must be issued.  Projects that involve a new C of O are always classified as Alteration Type 1 (A1).

  • Change in Exits
  • Change in Number of Stories
  • Change in Number of Dwelling Units
  • Change in Occupancy/Use

What is the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)?

The Landmarks Preservation Committee is an agency dedicated to preserving and regulating buildings and sites that the agency has labeled architecturally, historically or culturally significant.  Any changes to landmarked buildings and all proposed new building construction proposals in historic districts must be approved by the LPC to ensure the building or district retains its character or other qualities that make it culturally significant.

What is “landmark status,” and what does it mean?

A landmark is a building that has historical, cultural, or architectural significance to either New York City, New York State, or the nation.  Accordingly, the LPC regulates its upkeep and alterations to ensure its significance is not infringed upon or lost.  Alterations, reconstructions, demolitions, and new construction must all be approved not just by the DOB, but the LPC, as well.

What is a “historic district,” and what does it mean?

A historic district is an area of the city comprised of a large collection of landmark buildings.  Any changes to existing buildings (regardless of individual landmark status) and new building construction proposals in the designated area must be approved by the LPC.   This is to ensure the district retains its character or other qualities that make it culturally significant.