How to Properly Alter and Repair Historic Buildings

The demolition of the original Penn Station, which started in 1963, sparked widespread dialogue about building preservation. Public outcry from the destruction of this structure helped fuel the 1965 Landmarks Law. This created the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Stand-alone landmarks and historical districts are designated to preserve areas of distinct character, significance, and “sense of place.” Brooklyn Heights was the first neighborhood in the city to receive historic status, and now there are 141 historic districts throughout the city, with more to come in the future. About 27% of all of Manhattan’s land is within a historic district, versus 4% for the entire city.

Located here is an interactive map that displays historic districts, as well as individual, interior, and scenic landmarks.

Alterations & Repair Work
Any repairs or alterations of the exteriors of these buildings must be approved by the Landmarks Commission. Owners should be aware of the rules and regulations over their building so that they can propose a change that align with the guidelines. The LPC’s Enforcement Department makes sure that buildings comply with the law Landmarks Law.

Guidelines
Landmarks must be in good condition. It is illegal for them to be degrading with nothing being done about it. Even if unlawful alterations were completed by a previous owner, it is the responsibility of the current owner to bring it to compliance.

Applications
In order to do work on building in a historical district or a stand-alone landmark, a formal application must be submitted to the LPC. Subsequently, applicants must submit a thorough proposal about the kind of work they plan on doing. Historical photos are provided in order to help visualize the original intent. Floor plans, architectural renderings, and written specifications may also be provided.

Permits are needed for the following exterior work:

  • Any restoration, alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction that affects the building’s exterior
  • Any project altering the exterior envelope of a building, even sections that can’t be seen from the street level

Permits are needed for the following interior work:

  • Projects that require a DOB permit
  • Projects that also affect the building’s exterior, such as HVAC louvers and vents
  • Projects on an interior landmark

Permits are not needed for general repairs and maintenance such as:

  • Replacing broken window glass
  • Repainting a building the same existing color
  • Replacing caulk around windows and doors

Types of Permits

Permit for Minor Work (PMW)

  • Significant architectural features are affected
  • Can include window or door replacement, masonry cleaning or repair, restoration of architectural details
  • No public hearing
  • A decision will be given to you from from 10 – 20 working days
  • Valid for four years

Certificate of No Effect (CNE)

  • A DOB permit is required to perform the work
  • Work don’t affect significant features of the building
  • Can include plumbing and heating equipment installations, and fan vent exhaust installations and changes
  • No public hearing
  • A decision will be given to you from 10 – 30 working days
  • Valid for four years

Certificate of Appropriateness (CofA)

  • Significant architectural features are affected by the proposal
  • Work that doesn’t conform to the Rules of the Landmarks Preservation Commission
  • Can include additions, demolitions, new construction, and removal of significant architectural features like stoops or cornices
  • A Staff preservationist is assigned to you to help you through the process
  • You must present your project to your community board
  • A public hearing is required
  • A decision will be given to you within 90 working days
  • Valid for six years

Master Plan

  • Permission to proceed with repetitive elements on a large residential/commercial building over time
  • This can include work on windows and air conditioning.

Amendments to Existing Permits

The following is needed in order to alter an existing permit:

  • A letter from the architect/owner stating which permit is to be amended
  • A statement about what has changed with the work
  • Color photos and mockups detailing the changes
  • Written specs detailing the changes
  • Two sets of revised signed/sealed DOB filing drawings, if appliacble
  • Copies of a valid DOB permit for the work approved by the LPC permit and a signed contract specifying the work approved by the permit has started [Must be submitted at least 60 days before the permit is set to expire]

Here is a document that guides you through the process for common permit applications, such as awnings, rooftop additions, and fire escapes. In addition, the LPC provides technical resources on rules and regulations for a variety of topics including row houses and solar panels.

east61ststreethouses
Rowhouses in NYC

Compliance

Violations
LPC violations have two grace periods, as the main motive is to get the building back up to compliance.
The violation process for LPC violations are as follows:

  1. The Enforcement Department sends a Warning Letter if they have learned of a violation. The conditions may be corrected and will not receive a penalty if fixed in time. This grace period is usually 20 business days. If the law was intentionally violated, this step may be skipped.
  2. A Notice of Violation (NOV) gives another grace period that gives time to correct the
    violation prior to a hearing.
  3. Certificates of Correction allows owners to plead guilty and correct the violation without receiving a fine.
  4. Environmental Control Board (ECB) hearing is not related to public hearings where one argues their case for what would be appropriate work done. ECB hearings surround whether permits are obtained and technical requirements in the NOV have been satisfied. Fines are as high as $5,000 if you are found guilty or don’t show up.
  5. If the work is not fixed after an NOV, additional NOVs will continue to be issued, without grace periods. This will lead to mandatory fines.

Stop Work Orders (SWO) are mandates to immediately halt the work in progress on a historical building. There are penalties associated with an SWO if it is not adhered to.

Complaints
Complaints can be made against a historic building with the LPC, either directly to them or through 311. All complaints are investigated, based on how severe the situation is. The LPC may send someone on a site visit. Historic photos are analyzed and compared with the building at present. If the building is not in compliance, violations may be issued.

Complaint or violation questions can be directed to the Enforcement Department at 212-66907951.

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