New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Why Is Project Timing Important?

Kathleen Needham Inocco, Principal
Midtown Preservation

The Lay of the Land

I’d like to share a story of a project that we were called in on recently. It was a board in Brooklyn, and they had gotten themselves in trouble because they were impulsive. They had an architect who gave them correct advice on developing a roof garden. The president and a few board members ignored this and retained a landscape designer who claimed to specialize in creating rooftop gardens. He promised them that everything he installed was code-compliant and that he took care of all permits. Without discussing it with their manager or architect, they had soon signed a contract with no idea of what they were buying.

By the time the project was finished, they discovered that they couldn’t occupy the roof because, although work permits were obtained for the installations, no one had considered compliance with the various codes for use and egress required by the Department of Buildings (DOB), and no one had considered making the roof accessible for the disabled. When you create a space of congregation on the roof, you are creating a change to the use and occupancy of the space, and therefore you need to comply with restrictions on occupant loads, zoning, number of exits, dead and live loading of the structural slab, guardrail heights, etc. In addition, surveys have to be performed to make sure the roof system is in good condition before you can add a roof garden. Because the insurance company would not cover anyone who went on the roof if the space was not properly permitted for occupancy, the board had to keep it closed.

This story underlines the point that it’s very important for a board to trust the professionals it has hired. If someone is offering you a shortcut, it’s probably not in your best interest. It was a very impulsive, dangerous thing for the board to do, and it is still trying to unravel the damage.

Now What?

Board members serve because they have high expectations to improve the quality of life in the building. They want amenities, they want change, they want to bring a fresh outlook to the board and help their neighbors. But it’s very important to understand that doing a project in New York City is often an onerous process. Whether you’re doing maintenance work or making a major change to the usage, there’s a system that has to be followed, and it can be very lengthy. Boards often don’t understand how long the process can take, even under the best of circumstances.

After all the preliminary investigations, cost estimates and decisions have been completed, there’s a lengthy step-by-step process before a contractor can commence. For example, preparation of drawings and specifications; bidding and contract negotiations; approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, if you’re in a landmark district; testing for asbestos; filing of a DOB work application; establishing special inspectors; obtaining permits – all this can take months. If the building is over 14 stories, then you also have to comply with site safety regulations. That can be an additional four- to six-week process.

The most important step is to communicate with your neighbors far in advance if you need to install bridging or roof protection on or adjacent to their property. I’ve seen instances where neighbors have held up projects for over six months over access agreements through their attorneys. Don’t let unnecessary problems crop up. Be prepared.

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