No Wonder People Get In Trouble With NYC DOB

There are a few minor changes that we need to get signed off by DOB. For example, when Peter Holtzman was kind enough to look over our plans he noticed the plan examiner hadn’t caught the fact that we were exhausting things like bathroom vents and dryer vents over the property line (not allowed). So we’re planning to vent everything through the roof or rear wall and need to get that approved. Also, as the plan examiner was stamping our plans he noticed we needed changes to the size of our bulkhead – the walkway next to it didn’t meet “side yard” zoning requirements. He was kind enough to tell us to just come back and fix it when we put in a PAA. And we had changed a bathtub to a shower (two changes – one to delete the tub, another to add the shower), etc. So all in all minor stuff, but it seems little details can trip you up with the DOB, so we wanted to get them approved to avoid problems.

Our architect’s expediter filed the PAA (Post Approval Amendment) on 18 February and we were scheduled for a meeting a little over two weeks later – on 7 march. But that meeting was canceled for some reason and rescheduled for 4 May – that’s right – almost 3 months after we initially filed the PAA.

I was watching Holmes Inspection last night on HGTV and at one point he saw a problem and said “oh, we’ll need to pull a permit for that”. The next day he had his permit and they were on their way. That’s how things should work, but 3 months to get some little changes approved? It’s craziness.

I can sorta understand why the initial plan approval takes a while, but 3 months for a post approval amendment? Please… If you see something during construction that warrants a PAA that means you could have a 3 month delay (or more). And what if we don’t get the PAA approved? That’s a horror I don’t want to think about.

It’s no wonder people get in trouble with the DOB. They have little issues they need approval for, but they can’t get the feedback in a timely manner so they have to choose between a major delay or going ahead and doing something that hasn’t been approved.

Apparently the current system is better than the old one. I think the current system is broken. I can’t imagine what it used to be like. This isn’t just theoretical. It hurts homeowners and makes it more difficult to fix up blighted buildings in our communities.

On top of everything else we can’t even try to get an earlier appointment without first canceling our current appointment. If one isn’t available, then we could be pushed back even further. The expediter risked a later appointment today by calling, canceling, and trying to get an earlier one. Luckily when they said ‘no’ to an earlier one he was able to rebook the original appointment. But it was possible another caller could have gotten his original slot while he was figuring out no earlier ones were available.

Here are a few things I can think of that would make the DOB process better. Admittedly some are easier said than done…

  • Hire more staff and get things processed more quickly.
  • During the approval process allocate sufficient time to completely review the plans the first time. After the full review, anything that was not brought up as an objection shouldn’t be able to result in a rejection unless there are other unresolved issues or it’s a serious safety issue. However, put them in as conditions that must be resolved in the first PAA. That will let work start and issues be dealt with later.
  • Have a check list for the construction process similar to the approval process. Anything that’s not on the list, and not an immediate safety issue, shouldn’t ever result in a stop work order.
  • Have a separate unit in the Manhattan DOB that only deals with buildings under 100,000 sq. ft. (or maybe 50,000 sq. ft.). Do a little more hand holding with these projects so these little projects don’t get mired in bureaucracy.
  • Give inspectors more latitude to be lenient with little things that are not safety issues. Things like changing a bathtub to a shower or adding a second dishwasher shouldn’t require approval by a plan examiner. The inspector should be able to overlook an unlimited number of items like that – or just note that additional fees need to be paid, if they affect filing fees.

But of course, all of that is a pipe dream. In the mean time, dealing with the DOB is the one thing that seriously worries me about our project. I’m scared something little and unintentional will turn out being incredibly costly for no good reason.

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