If you are thinking of purchasing a new property anywhere in New York City, it is a good idea to check City records to ensure there are no open violations that exist, and that there are no liens on the property. It is not common practice that buyers, or homeowners for that matter, check to see if a property they are purchasing or own, even if it is a rental, has an open DOB (Department of Buildings) or ECB (Environmental Control Board) violation, however, that information is publicly available and should be checked. Although a title company is responsible to disclose this information, it is typically well into the process and after a considerable amount of resources and time have been put into the effort.

Open violations on a property can prevent the property from being purchased or sold, and refinanced. A property owner may not know their property has been issued a violation, especially if they rent it to a tenant. Typically building violations are written to the property owner, however, depending on how and when the violation was issued, it sometimes falls between the cracks and never gets into the owner’s hand. Even if that happens, the property owner is still responsible to remedy the violation by making necessary repairs and/or alterations. Many violations carry fines and penalties, so it is important to know if your property received a violation so the matter can be addressed quickly to avoid additional interest and penalties.

The NYC Construction Code requires owners of property in New York City to build and maintain their properties in safe condition. It also requires property owners to legally file any alterations or changes made to the structure, electrical or plumbing systems, and the construction of new structures within their property lines. These filings require the use of a licensed architect, engineer, or contractor, and in some cases all three. When a property owner alters a building or their property without being filed, or the property is in disrepair, it is more vulnerable to being issued a violation.

There are multiple types of violations that can be issued to a property.  The easiest to check are an ECB (Environmental Control Board) violation and a DOB (Department of Buildings) violation as they are recorded in the City’s Building Information System (BIS). More difficult violations to search are those issued by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), Fire Department (FDNY), DOT (Department of Transportation) or a city housing agency.

An ECB violation is the most common violation and is issued by classification.

A Class 1 ECB Violation is issued for an immediate hazardous condition. These conditions pose a threat that severely affects life, health, safety, property, the public interest of a significant number of persons, to warrant immediate corrective actions. A more moderate violation can receive a Class 2 categorization, and a lesser violation would receive a Class 3 categorization.

With any ECB violation, they must be corrected immediately. Notification of the correction must be provided to the Department’s Administrative Enforcement Unit. In some cases, you will need to attend an ECB hearing and pay any applicable penalties and fines. Resolving these matters can be complicated. It may be in your interest to get a professional architect and attorney involved to remedy these outstanding violations correctly and efficiently as they will require you to appear before an administrative judge at an OATH hearing.

DOB violations, like ECB violations, are public information and can be accessed on line through the NYC BIS at www.nyc.gov/bis. You can search the property by block and lot, or street address to find out if the property has received any type of violation. If you are not able to access the system, you can call 311 or consult with an architect to see if the property has been cited for any violations.

The BIS system is also a good source for obtaining documents related to the property.  You can access the Certificate of Occupancy, or copies of any permits that were issued.  If you are purchasing a new property, you can see the history of the property and have an understanding of what work was done over the years.

If there are DOB violations that exist on the property, you will want to address this with your broker or the seller immediately. A real estate transaction will come to an abrupt halt if the violation(s) is not remedied. Before the transaction can continue, the work required to remedy the violation(s) and bring the property up to code will be required, in addition to the payment of fines and penalties.  Furthermore, the DOB will not issue any permits, new or amended Certificates of Occupancy or any Letters of Completion, until the violations have been resolved.

The easiest way to navigate identifying if a home or commercial property has existing violations is to retain the services of an architect prior to negotiating the deal. An architect can also identify if any additions were illegally made to the existing structure, or if a deck, swimming pools or fireplace was added illegally. The investment of hiring an architect can save you thousands of dollars of regret.

Remember, when purchasing a property, any existing conditions that warrant a violation, or any existing violations that were issued on the property, transfer to the new owner. It is important a buyer is well informed prior to entering into a contract of sale.

Whenever you embark on a home improvement project, an electrical or plumbing renovation, or construct an addition on or to your property, you should consult with an architect to file permits with the Department of Buildings. If you are altering any interior walls of your home, relocating plumbing fixtures, finishing your basement, adding a deck or swimming pool to your backyard or adding onto your home you need to follow specific procedures, which should start with consulting and hiring a licensed architect.

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

(718) 720-3478        [email protected]