Brownstone Boys Reno: When Dealing With the DOB, 1936 Came Back to Haunt Us!

Editor’s note: Welcome to the sixth installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at www.thebrownstoneboys.com.

In our first post, so many weeks ago, we talked of realizing our dream of restoring a Brooklyn brownstone and finished that post with a dose of reality. We knew coming into this project that the house itself would present problems of its own (even before we closed, we found termite damage in immediate need of repair in the basement) but expected that dealing with the DOB would be one of the more frustrating parts of the process. We closed our first post with the expectation of a future post about that topic AND here it is!

brownstone boys

The 1936 I-Card record. Image via HPD

Our building has been renovated within the last decade. There has probably even been work in the decades before. Like the vast majority of two- to three-family brownstones that predate 1937, our building does not have a certificate of occupancy (CO). One was not required before 1937 and supposedly there has been no work done that would create one since. We do have a letter of no objection from the DOB for the use of our building as a two-family. That gave us the ability to close with our mortgage even without a CO.

With our drawings and plans complete, our architect went to the DOB for approval. We hoped to get approval on an alteration type 2, assuming no major work had been done.

Unfortunately the DOB produced a piece of paper from 1936 (!) showing our building with a garden and parlor duplex and a third-floor rental. The problem is our building has a garden rental and a parlor/third floor duplex.

This is the way we want it, and we did look at many buildings that were configured the way the DOB shows ours. If we would have bought one of those buildings we most certainly would have converted it to have the parlor level as the main living space in the duplex.

So we went back to the drawing board to submit our plans not only for our duplex renovation, but to straighten out the configuration of the building on file. This means we now have to do an alteration type 1, which means having city inspectors come in to find everything in the building that is not up to current codes.

brownstone boys

The 1936 I-Card record. Image via HPD

Please keep in mind that we are not professional designers or builders. We have a great architect and a trustworthy contractor, and other than that we are two guys with day jobs navigating what will most likely be a complicated renovation of a very old building. We’re also all for bringing things up to code and ensuring the place is safe for us and our tenants. So the DOB regulations are important and we will certainly follow them.

With that said, they don’t make it easy in so many areas. Many of the things we will now have to do will be frustrating and expensive.

browntone boys

A beam in the cellar that needs to be replaced due to termite damage

Our updated drawings and plans have been submitted to the DOB. Our architected addressed everything he could in the design. Now, we are currently waiting on receiving what we are expecting to be a very lengthy list of objections that we will need to include in another revision of drawings before we can get approval to start. Our fingers are crossed that there aren’t huge issues that will be costly and difficult to resolve. We’ll keep you posted on what happens!

[Photos via Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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