New York City Building Permits: What You Need to Know


It’s hard to fathom, but from the earliest settlements of colonial days until now, construction has been happening in New York City for more than 400 years! What’s more, New York is the largest city in America, with a population of more than 8.5 million (not including the millions more in outlying areas). With this much infrastructure over the years—not to mention the limited amount of land for so many people—we shouldn’t be surprised that almost every kind of construction project in New York City requires building permits, with significant penalties for infractions.

Whether you’re building a new construction from the ground up, or whether you’re making improvements on an existing structure, you’ll need a State-Licensed Professional Engineer (PA) or Registered Architect (RA) to pull a permit from the city before construction begins. You’ll probably need to repeat this process several times at various stages of construction. The process is more complicated than we can describe here, of course—but here’s a quick overview of the basics.

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Types of Permits

New York City’s Department of Buildings issues work permits of many different types for different aspects of the building project. Here are just a few examples based on information from the department website:

  •  Electrical
  •  Plumbing
  •  Boiler work
  •  Elevator work
  •  Concrete
  •  Scaffolding & Sheds
  •  Cranes & Derricks
  •  Limited Alterations

…the list goes on!

You’ll also need to apply for an After Hours Variances permit if your team needs to work on site after 6 p.m., before 7  a.m. or on weekends—and when the project is complete, you’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy permit before anyone can live or work in the building.

In addition to the specific types of permits, you can apply for four different permit classifications, based on the type of work you’re doing:

  • New Building (NB)—construction from the ground up
  • ALT1—Major Alterations
  •  ALT2—Multiple Alterations
  • ALT 3—Minor Alterations

Are There Projects that Don’t Require a Permit?

Certain minor improvement projects might not require a permit—for example, if you’re replacing cabinets in your own kitchen or bathroom. However, it’s best to be certain before starting any project whether a permit is needed, so consult with your contractor before beginning work.

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Can We Proceed with Construction without a Permit?

We seriously don’t recommend it; the New York City Administrative Code assesses significant penalties for construction that occurs without a permit. For a one- or two-family structure, the penalty is four times the amount of the permit. For larger structures (which is almost all of NYC), the penalty is fourteen times the cost of the permit, with a $5000 minimum! There are rare circumstances in which the department will give leniency and waive penalties, but trust us—in this situation, it’s far better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Given the sheer volume of permits being requested at any given time, it can certainly be frustrating to wait for approval before beginning any stage of construction. (It’s one of the most common reasons why buildings fall behind schedule, in fact.) However, you’ll save a lot of headache and expense by being patient with the process. To learn more about New York City building permits that may be needed for your project, give Wellbuilt a call at 917.475.1207.