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How to Know When the “Rote” Way Is the Wrong Way

The Challenge

This is a 60-unit co-op in Morningside Heights, a pre-war building. Its gas was turned off by Con Ed because someone smelled gas. After pressure-testing all the apartments and finally scheduling a Department of Buildings (DOB) inspection, something odd happened. The superintendent’s apartment and the boiler room are in the basement, but the DOB refused to acknowledge that either one officially “exists” – because they were not included on the Certificate of Occupancy. The problem is that pre-war buildings that haven’t done any type of major alterations do not generally have Certificates of Occupancy. In this case, the DOB inspectors were requiring the building to retain an engineer to “create” the boiler room and the superintendent’s apartment, to show that they now legally exist.

The Solution

Instead of hiring an engineer and going through that time-consuming process, we dug a little bit deeper to a point before the Certificate of Occupancy existed, before anything was digitized. Basically, inspectors would come out to buildings with an index card and a pencil. They would walk the building and put their notes on the cards – anything about the building. These I-cards have since been digitized and put on the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development website.
Finding the building’s I-card, we discovered that there was a unit recognized in the basement as a superintendent’s apartment. We were also able to find, on the city’s DOB website, boiler applications from 1938 and 1971. This showed that filings had been made for replacement boilers. Therefore, we were able to get a hold of the chief inspector of the unit that issues the plumbing permits, and he finally agreed the boiler room and the super’s apartment “existed.” The gas was turned back on.

The Lesson

Too many management companies don’t want to go the extra mile. They’ll say, “OK, we need an engineer, we’ll get you 14 quotes” – instead of saying, “This doesn’t make sense, let’s dig deeper.” They’re not trying to find a better way. We always try to think outside the box. Often the rote way is the wrong way.

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