New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Co-ops and Condos Making Good Use of the Construction Lull

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on April 29, 2020

New York City

Coronavirus, essential construction, DOB violations, capital projects, co-op and condo boards.

The current downtime is a good time to correct violations and plan future capital projects.

April 29, 2020

In this time of uncertainty, it is difficult for many co-op and condo boards to decide if they should push ahead with construction projects that have been deemed essential under the state’s mandatory pause on nonessential work during the coronavirus shutdown. That same uncertainty is overshadowing many planned capital projects. 

“Every client is different,” says Oswald Bertolini, a principal at Bertolini Architectural Works. “Some are optimistic and think they should plan ahead. They believe they will be able to start their project soon. Others are scared and don’t even want to have any kind workers in their building.” Some clients have put new capital projects on hold. “You can interview a contractor, but you don’t even know when you can start working,” Bertolini says.

The optimists, however, are busy planning for their future capital projects. For instance, many boards are interested in putting solar panels or recreational spaces on their roof. “Now would be a good time to assess the roof membrane,” says Eric Cowley, principal at Cowley Engineering. “We can do a lot of remote prep work with the huge amount of records from buildings we worked on. With a combination of those records and Google Earth, we can draw the building remotely. Then, when we get a chance to go out, we can verify. That’s just a matter of being efficient.”

If a board is planning to do other kinds of exterior work, one first has to start with drawings of the building. Taking photographs and measurements is something that can be done right now, even on site, architects say. All this prep work takes many weeks, and getting it done now will give a building a head start when construction work is allowed to resume.  

“Even though nobody knows what we’re coming back to, the best is to just have all approvals in place so we can start working when there is a thaw,” says Eric Vonderhyde, the other principal of Bertolini.

Even the dire pessimists who are reluctant to plan for an unknown future should not put all their work on hold, Cowley advises. There is plenty that can or should be done right now. For instance, violation removals can now get accomplished even easier than before the pandemic hit. “In the last two weeks a miraculous upgrade happened at the Department of Buildings (DOB),” he says. “Things are happening amazingly fast. It’s a good time to deal with the DOB right now, because they have really gotten very good at allowing this online.” 

This is also a good time to clear up clerical errors. “There are a lot of violations that still exist in the DOB system even though they have been cleared,” Cowley says. “We assist with that by having photographs and a report to prove that the violation has been corrected. If the violation is an error, we can prove that.” 

Permissions from the DOB for essential work are also issued extremely fast. 

During the construction pause, boards should not forget about the maintenance of their building. “Buildings are not static, they decay every day,” Cowley says. “You might find something right now that has to be fixed – unsafe conditions have to be addressed.” The same holds true for leaks. One cannot wait until the virus disappears to stop water from coming into an apartment. “A lot of times there are temporary solutions,” Cowley says. “Depending on how complex the problem is, we have to come up with a creative temporary fix.” 

Nobody knows when things will get back to normal. But work will resume, eventually, because much of it is mandated by the city. “Everybody is trying to play Nostradamus and is coming up with a possible scenario,” Bertolini says. “I think we will be able to restart all our jobs in a few months, but on a slower pace, because we believe the social distancing rules and other precautions might still be an issue.” 

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