Planning to renovate? Start by watching the video below.
Steps to getting a renovation job done in NYC:
Hire an architect/engineer
Architects and engineers are licensed by New York State to interpret the applicable building code and zoning laws. They will assist you in designing the project and determining the feasibility of your proposed renovation. An architect will want to visit your job site to take measurements, then they’ll create drawings per DOB standards. Don’t have an architect? No worries. We can recommend someone.
Your management company will have an alteration agreement package that you have to comply with. This usually requires submitting a deposit along with some signed forms. Then the architect will send drawings and a letter describing the scope of work to your management company. The management company will then send out these documents to a building architect for review. This review process can be the most difficult part of the approval process. Building architects tend to move slowly and do a more thorough review than the Department of Buildings (DOB). This would include looking for things like soundproofing - something the DOB isn’t concerned with. Expect your project to get some objections from the building architect upon first review. It usually takes an architect a few tries to get the building architect to sign off on a project.
HIRE AN EXPEDITER
Now that your job has been approved by the building, this is usually a good time to hire an expediter. As the filing representative for the job, an expediter’s role is to fill out forms that complement the architect’s drawings and walk the project through the DOB’s system. An expediter can advise you of any other trades needed (e.g. asbestos inspector - more on that below) and give you an idea of the timeline/costs for approval, permit, and sign off (more about this later).
Renovation projects in buildings built before April 1, 1987 require a recent asbestos inspection done or the DOB won’t approve the job. (“Recent” means within the last year.) Even if your space was gut renovated in the last few years, a recent asbestos inspection must take place. Also, no matter how small the scope of work, an inspection must be done. An asbestos inspection would be conducted by a licensed inspector. The inspection involves taking small samples of the existing building material that will be disturbed, then sending those samples to a lab to be tested. Samples can be taken from similar building material to avoid creating conspicuous holes in the walls. It usually takes a few days to schedule an asbestos inspection, and a few additional days to get the inspection report. Expect to pay around $1,000 for an asbestos inspection. Once an inspection is completed and the results find no asbestos-contaminated material (ACM) will be disturbed by your project, then an asbestos inspection report is issued. The inspection report is also known as an ACP5. We’d be happy to recommend an asbestos inspection company if necessary.
landmarks filing (if applicable)
Around the time you schedule an asbestos inspection, if your building is a landmark, you’ll want to begin the filing process with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The LPC is required to review any project in a landmark building. Even if your work is on the 22nd floor in a rear bathroom that no one can see, you still have to get the LPC’s approval or the DOB will not approve the job. The LPC review process involves submitting the architect’s drawings and a form signed by an officer of your building’s board. Once submitted, it can take 3-4 weeks to get a response from the LPC. Most jobs are disapproved upon first review, with the LPC preservationist asking for additional information from the architect. Then it can take a few more weeks for the preservationist to review revised drawings and approve the project. Note: If you project is above the second floor and all work is interior, an expedited review from the LPC can be requested. These reviews are usually done in a few days and rarely have objections. Once the job is approved by the LPC, they usually issue a Certificate of No Effect (CNE). If your renovation work is substantial, they may issue an actual permit. There isn’t much difference between a CNE and an LPC permit.
While the LPC is reviewing your project (if applicable), and after the asbestos inspection has been produced, an expediter will set up the forms to be used for a DOB filing. We’ll need to gather some information from you and the other shareholders in the project. This includes the estimated job costs, who will be signing on behalf of the building’s board, and more. Once the forms are completed, they’ll be first sent to the architect to be signed/sealed. After the architect, we usually send the unit owner any forms to be signed. Lastly, the signed forms are sent to the management company to be signed by a board officer. All signed forms can be sent to us via email since we’ll be filing the job using the DOB’s online filing system.
Once all forms are signed, an expediter will upload the forms, drawings, LPC permit (CNE, if applicable), and the asbestos inspection report to the DOB’s system. We’ll then send you instructions on how to pay the required filing fees for your project. The DOB charges ~2% of the estimated job costs in city fees plus $165 for a records management fee ($45 for smaller buildings). After the city fees have been paid, we can submit the job for review by a plan examiner. The timeline for getting a job approved at the DOB depends on the filing method used by the architect. Note that the process of approval is the same for any filing method that is used. The difference comes in approval time. There are two common filing methods used:
1) Standard Plan Review. Most management companies require the architect to use this filing method. Standard plan review requires a plan examiner at the DOB to review the drawings and documents submitted. It usually takes about a week to get a response from the plan examiner. Most jobs are disapproved upon first review, with the examiner producing a list of objections. Objections tend to ask for clarification about notes on the drawings, and for additional information to be provided. Once the architect revises the drawings to address the objections, it takes another week or so for the plan examiner to review them. At this point, hopefully the job is approved. But it isn’t uncommon for it to take the architect a few tries before getting a job approved.
2) Professional Certification. Some buildings will allow the architect to use a filing method called professional certification (aka self certification). This filing method allows for the job to be automatically approved by the DOB once submitted. There is a chance that the job will be audited during the sign off stage (more on that later), so it can be risky to use this method. There is nothing worse than getting a job approved and construction completed, only to find out that design changes must take place because of audit objections issued during sign off.
Once a job is approved, your contractor can now pull the required permits. Most contractors will pull the general construction permit, and then subs can pull their respective permits (e.g. plumbing). A permit is pulled by the expediter sending the contractor a form to be signed/notarized. Once this form is submitted to the DOB, it usually takes a few days for the permit to be issued. One thing to note when selecting a contractor: Make sure the contractor has a tracking number from the DOB. A tracking number is required to pull general construction permits on renovation jobs. In addition, a contractor usually needs to have a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) as well.
Once construction is complete, it is important to close the job in the DOB’s system. This is done by signing off the job. Obtaining a sign off involves submitting forms signed by the architect and owner. These forms prove to the DOB that the work was actually done. Otherwise, someone could argue that though plans were approved and permits were issued, it doesn’t mean anyone ever did any of the work. This can be a problem when you go to sell the unit one day and someone asks for proof that your renovation project was done legally. The sign off process usually only takes a few days once the proper forms are submitted to the DOB. Note that the sign off process can not begin until the plumber has signed off on their work. This is a bit confusing because the same terminology is used here. But essentially, a plumber has their own mini sign off process just for plumbing work. This could include an inspection being conducted by the DOB or the plumber just submitting some paperwork. Once your entire job is signed off, you will receive a Letter of Completion (LOC) from the expediter. This LOC can be shown to your management company to recover any deposit you gave before the project started.
Ready to get started?
We’ve helped hundreds of property owners get renovation jobs approved, permitted, and signed off by the DOB. We pride ourselves on specializing in filing renovation jobs for residential units throughout the five boroughs. We’ll guide you through the entire process to make things as smooth and painless as possible. Dealing with the City is never easy, but our experience can make the process move much more smoothly.