Dealing with the Department of Buildings (DOB) is Anoush Hovhannessian’s job. Whenever Hovhannessian, the expediter for Merritt Engineering Consultants, had to file for code- or safety-compliance certifications on behalf of one of her commercial or residential clients, she had to gather stacks of hard-copy reports, sketches, and photographs, then travel to the DOB’s offices on Church Street and stand in line in order to submit her application in person. And once the application was approved, the DOB put her through the ordeal again in order to collect the approval in person.
For Hovhannessian, as well as for many thousands of other engineers, architects, building owners, and co-op boards, life is about to become a whole lot easier. In September, DOB launched its DOB Now program, which will transfer a wide range of tasks online, from licensing and permits to reporting safety lapses. “DOB Now will make it easier for everyone involved with a project to gain access to up-to-date information,” predicts Hovhannessian.
The new program – the first phase of the rollout of DOB’s new $29.6 million computer system – promises to streamline inspections, safety compliance, and construction permits. “This will facilitate day-to-day tasks such as application filings, meetings, and accessing documents electronically without having to physically stand in lines at the buildings department” says Hovhannessian. “By creating a user ID, the building owner will be able to sign documents, make payments, and track the work of the architect, engineer, plumber, or other professionals they have retained and view the status of their work in real time.”
The DOB Now program is part of a broader effort, dubbed Building One City, that will make it possible for building owners, developers, expediters and engineers to book appointments online and even communicate with department inspectors directly via chat. Anita Konfederak, a vice president with Merritt, whose speciality is façade safety, hopes that the DOB will respond much more quickly if one of her clients has an unsafe building or requires an inspection. “Right now,” she says, “it sometimes takes two weeks to get any response from them.” For all the potential benefits, however, the new process will initially require some adjustment. As Konfederak explains: “The DOB is hoping to keep track of current ownership and co-op boards better than in the past.” To meet that goal, a filing is not complete until it’s checked off by the current owner or board, who must identify themselves. Given the rapid changes in ownership and on boards, Konfederak says this may present some challenges.
Along with DOB Now comes Forgiving Fines, an amnesty program for building owners who have been in violation of Environmental Control Board (ECB) regulations. From September 12 through December 12 of this year, the city will waive penalties and interest on ECB violations that went into judgment before June 12, 2016. Only ECB violations are eligible for this amnesty program. According to Konfederak, this will be particularly beneficial to owners and operators of large complexes who are still awaiting a hearing. Owners who are already in default are not eligible.
But let’s look at the bright side. The days of standing in line with paperwork are coming to an end, as the DOB takes its first baby steps into the 21st century. Better now than never.