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Need a tenement expert: Zoning & Building Codes

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Need a tenement expert: Zoning & Building Codes

Postby alcatraz » Mon May 05, 2008 1:45 pm

Does anyone know an expert/authority on tenement buildings who might be able to talk sense into the Department of Buildings?

Yes, I know it is crazy talk to think anyone can talk sense into DOB. But here's the deal.

I live in an old law tenement building (built around 1875). It is one of three such buildings occupying a Street/Avenue corner and sharing a single residential entrance on the street side. Until 2005, there was a yard in the back. Tenement buildings are required to have yards.

In 2005, the owner built a "horizontal enlargement" occupying/replacing the entire courtyard. They justified this by (a) combining the three separate tax lots because (b) zoning allows 100% lot coverage on corner lots.

The results are identical to pre-law tenements built before there were any regulations requiring light or ventilation in tenement buildings. Such buildings, in the 19th century, either had to be altered to comply with new regulations or condemned. DOB essentially allowed my landlord to reverse engineer an illegal tenement building.

I and several of my fellow suffering tenants will be meeting again with DOB soon and we need someone with clout who can explain this to DOB in a way DOB will understand.

Thanks in advance for any tips.
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Postby TenantNet » Mon May 05, 2008 2:02 pm

What's the underlying zoning district designation? Is there a commercial overlay? What is the LL using the horiz. enlargement for? What are the allowable Use Groups?

On some cases where there's a commercial overlay (like you would see on avenues), the so called "yard" can be the roof of an extension that is no more than 23 feet above grade. The term "yard" has to do with light and air for the higher apartments, and also for egress. It does not mean it has to be at grade level or even dirt, and there's the notion of "permitted obstruction" in the yard being a horiz. enlargement covering the entire yard. Of course Bloomberg's DOB allows such nonsense. The idea of permitted obstructions really meant things like tool sheds and such.

You would want to find a lawyer who knows zoning, or an architect. (I would suggest an architect as most tenant lawyers are not zoning wizzes. And you want someone who knows how to get around the DOB. In other words you pay for political connections.
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Postby alcatraz » Mon May 05, 2008 2:24 pm

TenantNet wrote:What's the underlying zoning district designation? Is there a commercial overlay? What is the LL using the horiz. enlargement for? What are the allowable Use Groups?


It's C1-9. The ground floor is commercial (though LL has not yet obtained C of O to legalize conversion of three apartments to commercial). But this is relevant only insofar as LL has rented the extension to a preschool (now under construction), and the secondary egress for this preschool opens into the residential hallway. If you could see the hallway you'd understand why I'm having nightmares imagining a bunch of preschoolers trying to get out of the building along with the occupants of 48 apartments.

TenantNet wrote:On some cases where there's a commercial overlay (like you would see on avenues), the so called "yard" can be the roof of an extension that is no more than 23 feet above grade. The term "yard" has to do with light and air for the higher apartments, and also for egress. It does not mean it has to be at grade level or even dirt, and there's the notion of "permitted obstruction" in the yard being a horiz. enlargement covering the entire yard. Of course Bloomberg's DOB allows such nonsense. The idea of permitted obstructions really meant things like tool sheds and such.


A "yard," by definition, extends from the ground to the sky. I am aware of the provisions that allow for apartments to overlook a rooftop, as is the case here. The horizontal enlargement does not impact the windows of the apartments.

Unlike newer buildings which have modern ventilation systems and make use of things like setbacks to ensure adequate light, tenement buildings must have yards not just for light and ventilation of apartments but for a variety of other reasons.

Elimination of the courtyard is a problem in my building for two main reasons. First, there is NO light or ventilation of the hallway/stairs, except for skylights and louvers in the bulkheads on the fifth floor roof. In order to meet fire codes, LL had to install metal doors between the new entrance hallway and the main tenement buildings; these block light/ventilation in both directions. When the power goes out (which is not rare), the hallways and stairs are pitch black. When the dumbass restaurant tenant decided to use a gas-fueled pressure washer in the basement, it took six hours for the carbon monoxide detectors to stop going off. Second, there is now nowhere to store garbage. Tenants are forced to enter the cellar via 26" wide stairs with no handrails and through a self-closing door that sits on the nose of the top stair. Very hazardous, plus lack of any fire safety whatsoever in the cellar and no secondary exit.

TenantNet wrote:You would want to find a lawyer who knows zoning, or an architect. (I would suggest an architect as most tenant lawyers are not zoning wizzes. And you want someone who knows how to get around the DOB. In other words you pay for political connections.


Exactly - I think I'm looking for an architect. Any suggestions?
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