Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Groups Call for End to Self-Certification, Other DOB Reforms

June 13th, 2008 · 4 Comments

DOB Protest-News Conference

A number of civic and neighborhood groups had a press event at City Hall yesterday to push an agenda to reform the embattled Department of Buildings. Among other things, the groups called for an end to “self-certification,” a Giuliani-Era program that allows architects and engineers to certify that their plans comply with zoning and other regulations without city review. The program has been the subject of both abuse and controversy. The groups involved included the Queens Civic Congress, Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance (4BNPA), Historic Districts Council (HDC) and others. They were joined by City Council Members Tony Avella, David Weprin, John Liu and James Vacca and civic activists. (Interestingly, a rezoning in Mr. Avella’s district that he supports was defeated by the City Council yesterday, a move widely interpreted as political payback.) They suggest that Dept of Buildings reforms proposed by Mayor Bloomberg are “a watered-down version of previous proposals.” Queens Civic Congress President Corey Bearak, 4BPNA Executive Director and Brooklyn activist Raul Rothblatt and Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff were among those that participated.

The group lists three top priorities:

1. Re-inspect hazardous Stop Work Order sites. The Department of Buildings fails to re-inspect construction sites after every hazardous violation, and fails to verify compliance. Some offenders simply pay a fine.

2. End Self-Certification (a.k.a. “Professional Certification”). The crane disasters represent a more serious lack of oversight of the construction industry. City Hall needs to stand for safety all around New York, not just at high-rise crane sites.

3. Work with the community. City Hall needs to harness the expertise of community groups.

Here’s an agenda that some of the group is pushing:

* Demand closer coordination between, and oversight of the Buildings Department by the Department of City Planning with regard to DOB interpretation of zoning provisions.

* Support City Council legislation regarding elimination of self-certification

* Improve compliance by increasing inspection and rigid enforcement of zoning and Building Codes by the city DOB and HPD.

* Re-inspect all violations within 30 days and repeat until there is compliance [see Int. No. 203 and A7800 (Brennan)/ S5223 (Padavan)]

* Start a Comstat tracking of complaints for DOB and HPD and maintain in an “open” status all Building and Housing complaints until physical site inspection is conducted and the violation is cleared (see Int. No. 232).

* Mandate the DOB to require applicants to cure all outstanding violations before approval of any new-building permit, alteration permit or C. of O. (see Int. No. 232) or the sale of premises.

* Require that DOB dedicate at least one full-time inspector to each community board as a regular point of contact on buildings issues, inspections and follow-ups, with no less than two full days per month in the assigned district or as necessary to meet residents’ complaints.

* Establish a multi-agency task force to coordinate services among the fire, buildings department and other agencies, to report directly to the office of the mayor.

* Require the Police Department to assist and cooperate with the DOB to enforce stop work orders (Int. No. 245) and increase fines for violation of stop work orders.

* Prohibit self-certification for new building or major building alteration permits and for the correction of violations.

* Pending elimination of self certification, mandate the random audit of 20 percent of self certified applications within 20 days of filing. Immediately report all proven violations to the State Board of Education and remove privileges for self-certification and Directive 14 inspections.

* Require the Department of Buildings Community Accountability Act, directs DOB to notify community boards and borough presidents of all construction permits and DOB actions in the district and to issue public reports on all construction accidents, property damage and dangerous conditions [A7745B (Brennan)/ S5422B (Padavan)].

* Prohibits DOB from issuing certificates of occupancy until all adjudicated fines are paid [A7745B (Brennan)/ S5422B (Padavan)].

* Give community boards the right to 30 DOB audits a year and to copies of any plans on file at the DOB [A7745B (Brennan)/ S5422B (Padavan)].

* Require City licensure of general contractors by a Contractors Licensing Board to allow the City to revoke the licenses of developer-contractors who willfully violate laws involving safety, workers’ compensation, etc. [A7744A (Brennan)/ S5410A (Padavan)]

* Require Independent monitors to improve safety at problematic sites.

[Photo courtesy of the Historic Districts Council]

Tags: Construction Issues · Uncategorized

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Jun 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

    If we eliminate self certification housing prices go up. Then we’ll all be screaming about how expensive our housing is. We need affordable housing. Affordable housing is important enough that we can not eliminate the self certification process. Plus I think the arguments that say the city doesn’t (and will never) have enough skilled people to oversee all of the needed certifications is valid.
    Eliminating self certification sounds good, but it’s consequences are dire. Don’t do it!!

  • 2 Nick // Jun 13, 2008 at 11:36 am

    I dont understand how ending self certification has ANYTHING to do with job site safety? Is this directed towards a building permit? how does this keep a crane in the sky and not laying in traffic??? Self cert. is a efficient approach for minor construction and frees up DOB resources for more extensive applications. Any architect taking on a job where life safety / egress is created or modified typically goes for reviewed filing so liability is on the DOB for compliance…

    If you want to really fix the DOB, pay more for the job so they can afford to hire qualified professionals for reviews and inspections. We are in a bad position when the people reviewing the documents are the least qualified to do so.

  • 3 Kenny // Jun 13, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    If we end self-certification, then the city must invest more in the DOB so quality personnel can be hired. Otherwise, things will be no better, and maybe even worse.

  • 4 Rachael // Jun 14, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    We just need to envolve the courts here.
    We need to start looking into the developers/owners that pay architects to “get around the law”.
    Developers, too, need to be held accountable under the law for their part in these trangressions against our people.