As any Brooklyn homeowner set on a major renovation knows, the City’s Department of Buildings permitting process is expensive, time consuming, and opaque. And it has only gotten worse in the last year or so, as we experience a building boom and the City has increased requirements for such things as sprinklers, according to what we hear from readers on the Forum and elsewhere.

Last month the City’s Department of Buildings announced a major reform initiative. This followed 50 arrests in a massive bribery scandal that erupted earlier this year.

Reform strategies include spending $120 million, eliminating in-person visits with an entirely virtual process, hiring an additional 320 employees over four years, a new fee structure, and creating one building code to speed up the permitting process. (more…)


What did your Brooklyn row house look like originally? What year was it built? Who was the architect? Was it a two-family, one-family or something else? These are all questions original blueprints can answer. You may want to know because you are renovating, you have a passion for old houses, you are a new owner or you’re just curious.

Finding your original blueprints requires some legwork, ingenuity and persistence, as Brownstoner reader chemosphere recently discovered when researching his house in Flatbush.

He posted about the process, what he found and questions about the 100-year-old shorthand he was trying to decipher in a few separate posts in the forum. He has kindly allowed us to use those posts and the pictures of the blueprints he found to discuss in more detail how to find and read your original blueprints. (more…)


The Department of Buildings is overwhelmed by the number of filings for building permits and can’t keep up, reported The New York Observer. The City is taking almost twice as long to review first submissions of applications for new-building permits — an average of 15.7 days vs. 8.5 last year, according to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Operations. Alt-1 permits average 13.3 days, vs. 11.5 days last year.

The delays are costing big developers big money, said one of Brooklyn’s busiest architects, Gene Kaufman. One day behind schedule for a big project “costs $15,000 to $20,000 in expenses and $30,000 to $60,000 in lost income, depending on project size, so $45,000 to $80,000 a day,” he told the paper. Part of the slowdown can be attributed to code changes at the end of the year.

There’s also the building boom. Filings increased to 3,132 in 2014, vs. 2,549 in 2013. Permits issued increased 11 percent last year to 98,302, vs. 88,290 issued in 2013.

The building department is also down 16 employees, following recent arrests in widespread bribery schemes. The Building Department needs to hire more employees, said the story.

Have you had a problem? What do you think the City should do?

DOB Overwhelmed by Construction Demand [NYO]


The city has evicted residents of 10 apartments in a factory at 249 Norman Avenue in Greenpoint, citing safety concerns because the building has only one exit and no fire escape. Although the building is technically a factory with no legal residential units, a building department spokesman said the tenants can move in as soon as the owner, United Realty Corporation, corrects the problem, reported the Brooklyn Paper.

The landlord appears disinclined to do that, according to the story. Some of the tenants are immigrants and at least one couple is expecting a baby. The eviction came after years of inaction from the city, and it happened on the same day the D.A. announced arrests in widespread building department and HPD bribery schemes.

City Evicts Tenants From Greenpoint Lofts It Long Ignored [BK Paper]
Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

210 Joralemon St, BMB, BATC, 1

The Manhattan D.A. Tuesday announced it has arrested 50 in a sweeping sting for bribery connected to construction and housing in Brooklyn as well as elsewhere in the city. Those arrested included 16 employees of the Department of Buildings and Housing Preservation and Development, 22 property managers and owners (many in Brooklyn), six expediters, two contractors and one engineer.

“Our investigation revealed a widespread network of corruption in the construction industry and among the city workers charged with keeping that industry safe,” said Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters in a prepared statement. “We found that these 16 City employees, including several senior supervisory staff, took bribes to clear code violations, including some that presented real safety threats. Today’s arrests shows that the city and law enforcement have zero tolerance for criminal conduct that undermines the city’s mandate to protect its citizens.”

Many of the schemes involved unregistered expediters who paid off the Chief of Development for Brooklyn construction, inspectors and other DOB employees to dismiss stop work orders and other violations and make sure their buildings under construction passed inspections. Over at HPD, property owners and managers paid off city employees to dismiss an astounding number of violations at many dozens of rental buildings in Bushwick, Williamsburg and Bed Stuy. In two separate cases, HPD inspectors were bribed to evict tenants from two buildings with two separate owners in Bushwick under false pretenses of a nonexistent HPD vacate order.

You can read all the details with the names of the charged here, although unfortunately the document does not list building addresses. Above, the Brooklyn Department of Building at 210 Jeroleman Street.

Do you think the arrests will go a long way toward routing out corruption in Brooklyn construction and housing? Or is this just the tip of the iceberg? Is bribery in the building trades in Brooklyn the norm or the exception?

Arrest and Criminal Charges in Widespread Bribery Schemes [Manhattan D.A.]
Photo by Bridge and Tunnel Club

726 monroe1

A Stop Work Order has been issued at this Bed-Stuy construction site at 726 Monroe Street on Friday because neighbors complained that an excavator had smashed into their building. One neighbor told NY1, “the lady told me that the whole wall shook. She came downstairs and said the building is smashed. So I went upstairs, the whole wall is smashed in. It took the whole sheet rock and pushed it all in.” According to NY1, when authorities arrived the excavator was leaning against the building. (more…)

A group of neighbors won a lawsuit against a homeowner who built an outsize home over an existing bungalow in Homecrest because he filed the work as an alteration rather than a new building. Today the New York Daily News has a story on the home at 1882 E. 12th Street, which towers over its neighbors at 53 feet high. The architect on the job, Shlomo Wygoda, had “self-certification” rights with the Department of Buildings — the same rights that allowed architect Robert Scarano to build stuff like this. The judge has ordered the Board of Standards and Appeals to review the process, and it’s likely that the developer will be ordered to tear the structure down. In the meantime, the architect has lost his self-certification rights with the DOB. As the neighbor’s lawyer tells the NYDN, “if the plans had been properly reviewed by the Department of Buildings, would they have been approved? The answer is a resounding no.” The Board of Standards and Appeals will rule on the building by July 23.
Neighbors Win Battle Over Notorious Tower [NY Daily News]
Photo by Google Maps

dob-apps-q12013-041813The Wyckoff Heights blog noted a jump in applications for new buildings and alterations in Bushwick in the first quarter of this year. If the Department of Buildings were to approve every one, about 200 new units of housing would come on the market. For some perspective, that’s between half to one-third the number of units applied for in the same period in Williamsburg and Greennpoint combined. (Right now, Williamsburg has the largest number of construction sites in Brooklyn.) The blog created a series of maps showing where the new builds would be located and how many apartments in each one. The biggest area of activity is not the loft area where Roberta’s is located, but an area the blog calls “Bushwick West,” south of Flushing and East of Broadway. Click through to the original story to see more maps.
1Q-2013 Review — DOB Applications [Wyckoff Heights Blog]
Map by Wyckoff Heights Blog

Late last week we posted about the residents of a damaged Bushwick building unable to return to their apartments; since then a resident shared more details about the situation there. Eight families vacated the building at 420 Melrose more than one month ago after nearby excavation caused cracks in the building. The photo above is from inside the apartment building, where looters have gone through the resident’s stuff and stolen some of it. The resident who started the 420 Melrose Twitter account explains the situation:

“We were never given an opportunity to go in and get things. The landlord is still holding our security deposit and half a month’s rent hostage while we all try and figure out individually where to live… Some people have moved to new places, some people are staying with friends, some people have just moved back home to places like Texas. For a move in, it seems like the landlord doesn’t have as much interest in getting us back in as he has in flipping the building and jacking up the rent.

As for the DOB, we’re filing tort claims, which you have to file if you want to pursue any action at any time against a city agency, but generally we have been redirected to any number of city agencies that were only able to individually offer us space in a no-kitchen, shared bathroom homeless shelter. That’s really about all the city offers in terms of protections for people that this kind of thing happens to. DOB seems pretty mum right now in general. It’s impossible to get a straight answer in regards to timelines.”

This past Sunday the DOB allowed residents to enter the building and they will return next weekend to take everything besides furniture, as the building is not stable enough to remove it. The tenants have hired a lawyer and are doing a fundraiser in the next week or so to cover the retainer costs, which we will keep you updated about.
420 Melrose Place Residents Still Homeless [Brownstoner]
Bushwick Buildings Evacuated After Cracks Appear [Brownstoner]

There’s a story in today’s Post that suggests the purse strings are loosening on lending for new construction: “The city’s Buildings Department issued 112 permits for new Brooklyn construction projects from January through April, compared with 69 in the same period last year. Much of the spike is due to more than 350 new units of housing in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.” The story notes that a lot of the housing planned is one- to three-family residences rather than a number of of big condos, and some of what we’re seeing is financing coming through for formerly stalled projects. However, a quote from developer Abby Hamlin, who is working on the second phase of the State Street townhouse project in Boerum Hill, gives insight into what’s going on in the field: “‘The market is definitely getting much better for securing construction financing, but it’s not totally back,’ said Hamlin, adding that lenders financed 80 percent of her construction costs for phase one but only agreed to finance 65 percent for phase two.'” So is it time, perhaps, for cautious optimism?
‘Building’ up Brooklyn’s Economy [NY Post]
Photo by Alex R.

Last Friday’s collapse of a billboard onto the BQE in Greenpoint prompts the Times to examine the legal gray area many of the structures occupy. Even though billboards have been illegal within 200 feet of highways since 1940 and the city started cracking down on many of the ones that do exist next to highways a couple years ago, they’re still legal if they advertise a business that’s at their base or a “noncommercial” nonprofit/charity. The billboard that fell was advertising the lottery on one side—but Dunkin’ Donuts on the other—and its owner says it was legal since the lottery is a noncommercial entity. A spokesman for the DOB says the billboard’s owner is getting citations for not properly maintaining the structure and for having the Dunkin’ ad on one side. The DOB also says it’s going to inspect other billboards near highways to try to make sure that they’re structurally sound. Meanwhile, Councilman Stephen Levin, who lives near the collapsed billboard, is quoted as saying that the city should be looking to get some billboards taken down “if some of these signs are getting in under permits that may be fraudulent.” The most interesting tidbit in the story, though, is how much money the billboards bring in for their owners: The lottery was paying $12,923 a month for the ad on the one that collapsed.
Collapse Casts Light on the Murky World of Billboards [NY Times]
Photo by Aviator Rob