A deck or porch is considered by the NYC Department of Buildings as a raised floor, supported by structural framing above the surrounding ground at or below the level of the first story of a house. When you live in New York City, you must not only consider the cost and time it will take to create your backyard paradise, but how to do it legally.

A deck or a porch must be constructed without a roof. An outdoor structure with a roof is subject to stricter guidelines regulating lot coverage and storm water retention.  While a porch provides access to the building’s primary entrance, a deck does not have to be attached to the building for it to be considered a deck by Building Department definition. A balcony on the other hand is an open floor structure at the second floor or above and is subject to additional rules and guidelines.

Contrary to many myths and untruths that have been circulating the Staten Island community for years, all decks and porches must be approved by the NYC Department of Buildings and a permit must be issued for the work to commence. A licensed architect or engineer must prepare plans and file with the NYC Department of Buildings to secure approvals. Your architect will likely need a copy of your survey prior to determining the size and location of your porch or deck. Prior to retaining a contractor, you must verify he or she is a home improvement contractor (HIC) who is licensed by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, has the required insurance in place, and can secure a permit to begin construction.

Your licensed contractor should provide you with a detailed contract indicating the cost and scope of work in accordance with the Department of Consumer Affairs rules. Work cannot commence on your porch or deck unless and until a permit is secured. Also any plumbing or electrical work must be performed by a licensed plumber or electrician, respectively. Homeowners cannot perform plumbing or electrical work themselves.

While your architect will review requirements that may be specific to the zoning and circumstances particular to your property, there are certain general rules that apply to most porch and deck construction:

  • A deck or porch may project up to eight feet beyond the face of the building into the required rear yard. Note that zoning regulations determine the rear yard requirement for each property, and that must be determined prior to designing the size and location of your deck or porch.

  • There must be at least three feet between the deck or porch and the property line on the sides.

  • All decks and porches must have a railing at least 42 inches high.

  • Spaces between railings and/or posts can be no greater than five inches.

  • Elevated decks and porches must be braced at the columns and where the beams and columns connect.

  • Decks and porches should be able to withstand a minimum of 40 pounds per square foot plus the weight of the deck or porch, so the structural design and materials used are important considerations.

  • Decks and porches must be properly anchored to a house or building and restrictions apply to use of wood material near lot lines and multiple dwellings.

  • No storage is permitted below a deck or porch.

It is important to note, that regulations from other agencies may apply to your property if it is landmarked, or is situated in a special natural area, historic, or other designated district. These regulations may concern front, rear, or side yard requirements, tree maintenance, and/or grading requirements that would affect your porch, or deck location choice. You can secure landmarks information from the Landmarks Preservation Commission at www.nyc.gov/landmarks, and zoning information from the Department of City Planning at www.nyc.gov/planning.

Upon completion of construction, sign-off inspections may be required, an updated survey may be needed indicating the conditions as completed, and either a Letter of Completion or amended Certificate of Occupancy may be required depending upon the type of approval that was required.

I know all this information seems daunting, and has probably put somewhat of a damper on your vision of backyard bliss. However, these rules and regulations are time-tested, and adherence to them will assure that when you do complete your porch or deck, your family can safely enjoy your recreational sanctuary.

Ronald D. Victorio, R.A. – Ronald Victorio Architects

(718) 720-3478   e-mail:  [email protected]