Ask an Architect: Do I Need a Permit for This?

When working on small scale renovations, it is not always clear when a permit is required. Here are some of the most common permit-related inquiries we have seen.

Our kids have finally moved out! We’re planning to move a wall in their bedroom to make ours bigger. Does this need a permit?
Yes. The City of New York requires that a permit be filed when any wall larger than 45 square feet or 50% of a wall, (whichever is greater) is being removed either permanently or temporarily. Consideration should also be taken in regard to the Multiple Dwelling Law and requirements for minimum room sizes, as well as light and air. If any plumbing or electrical fixtures are being relocated as a result, these relocation’s would require permits in their respective work types. (RCNY 101-14)

Everyone always joked that our powder room is just a closet with a toilet, so we’re planning to expand it into the actual closet to make more room. What permits do I need?
First and foremost, before making any plans, if applicable, verify with your alteration agreements that your building permits expanding “wet areas.” “Wet areas” are defined as locations where water is present and used, such as a kitchen or a bathroom. If two or less plumbing fixtures are being relocated, no plumbing permit is required. (BC §28-105.4.4) Refer to question 1 regarding relocating the wall.

Sometimes I think the subway tile in my bathroom has been there longer than the actual subway; it’s definitely time to upgrade the look of my bathroom. Surprisingly, the toilet, sink, and bathtub are fine, but the floor and wall tiles need to be replaced. Do I need a permit?
As long as the work does not involve cutting away walls or replacing fixtures, no permit is required. (BC §28-105.4.2)

Now that the building next door finished their façade repairs, it’s not so bad to look at. But I am noticing now that it’s about time I replace this old dirty window.  Do I need a permit?

There are many things to consider when replacing a window.  Let’s call these the “four L’s”: landmark, lot line, lintel, and light.

  • If the building is recognized as a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission or within a historic district, a landmark permit is required on top of any additional permits.
  • If the window is located on the lot line or is fire-rated for any other reason, a DOB permit is required.
  • If the window lintel is being replaced, a permit is required.
  • If the amount of light and air that is required for the space is not affected based on the operable area of the new window, no permit is required. If the size of the window is being increased to add more light or air, a permit is .

Regardless of whether or not your window work requires a permit, any new window still requires compliance with the 2016 New York City Energy Conservation Code which may have an impact on the type of window being installed.



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Congratulations Joan!

HLZA is proud to share that our very own Joan Berkowitz was elevated to the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) College of Fellows. The College of Fellows honors APT members who have provided valuable services to the preservation field and to the organization

The APT is a multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to promoting the best technology for conserving/preserving historic structures and their settings.

We congratulate Joan on this well-deserved honor and commend her for her dedicated service to the field!





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Meet Our Staff:  Q&A with Carolyn Caste

Carolyn Caste, RA is HLZA’s Director of Facade Compliance. She’s been with us for more than 7 years. In this edition of our Q&A, Carolyn discusses FISP requirements, her inspiration to become an architect, and that one time she took a year off to travel the world.


Q: Carolyn, what’s changed in our business in the last few years?

FISP has evolved a great deal. The DOB is getting more stringent with what they find acceptable. Reports have to be thoroughly reviewed for their content. As a liaison between the DOB and our office, there’s a lot of ‘back and forth’ conversation to arrive at a consensus regarding the DOB’s interpretation of building conditions.


Q: What’s the impact to the client?

The DOB is not taking building maintenance lightly anymore. Former ‘minor’ maintenance items, are now considered more serious. For example, minor cracks in a brick bulkhead are potentially a violation for failure to care for your building. Some clients don’t believe their buildings require that level of maintenance, while the DOB is pushing to have buildings maintained in a safer manner.


Q: So part of your role is to educate?

Yes , I educate on the expectations of the DOB, and I educate our staff so they, in turn, can educate our clients.


 Q: And what’s the most effective way to do that?

Analysis of photographs, is one; having consistency in conditions, is another. Even though there may be 50 people writing FISP reports, I review each report, providing a consistent point of reference.


What inspired you to become an architect?

Drawing floor plans in a note book in fifth grade before even knowing there was a profession dedicated to that.  In college, I obtained a minor in architectural history and that sparked my interest further.


Q: You elected to take one year off to travel around the world; was that of value to your work?

Yes! As a city, I realized we’re lucky we have these laws in place. A lot of major cities don’t have these checks and balances and you have buildings in dangerous condition with no one doing anything about them.  In third world countries, you can tell the infrastructure is not in place.



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Some (Dis)assembly Required: Cooling Tower Logistics

Replacing a 32-ton cooling tower situated at the top of a high-rise and in the middle of a bustling city like Manhattan presents the obvious challenges: Do we utilize a hoist? A crane? A helicopter? For an imposing building like 100 United Nations Plaza, the answer can be simple in theory, but complex in execution: small pieces.

100 UN Plaza, a 52-story building in Midtown East, opened in 1986. The original cooling tower was housed inside the peak at the top of the 52nd floor and was installed via crane at the time of construction. Pushing well past their usefulness, the bulk of the major building systems were over thirty years old.

The replacement of a critical building system, such as a cooling tower, is not an easy task, and the comfort of the residents must be taken into consideration. Construction can only commence once the weather has cooled significantly and it is vital that it is completed before the weather begins to warm. As a result, this leaves a short window of time to get the tower up and running.

HLZA was hired by the Building’s Board of Owners to design and oversee construction of the new cooling tower. On assessment, we found that the most cost-effective solution was to replace the aging cooling tower. A team of six to ten workers chopped the old tower into pieces that were small enough to fit in the building’s only service elevator, making over one hundred trips to get all the pieces down.

Ordered in ‘knocked down’ (disassembled) condition, the new tower was then transported up in small pieces, conveyed in the building’s service elevator. However, it was discovered that some of the new cooling tower components were too large to be transported in the service elevator and could not be cut down in size. Our creative solution? The unwieldy pieces were secured on the very TOP of the elevator car and sent up to the 51st Floor. The doors on the 52nd floor then had to be opened to remove the pieces from the top of the elevator car. This process required precise coordination with the elevator maintenance company and specialty elevator personnel had to be on-site. Once the pieces finally made their way to the 52nd floor, they were hand carried up an additional two flights of stairs and to where the tower was assembled in-place.

At the end of this complex and arduous construction process, the thankful residents of 100 United Nations Plaza were delighted to have a brand new state-of-the-art cooling tower and a cool apartment, just in time to beat the summer heat!

Before Demolition

After Demolition

After Installation of New Tower

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New York’s Overlooked Legend: The Parking Garage

Parking garages have long been the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ of architecture, getting little or no respect. They can also be threatening and ominous spaces, as seen in many popular films and even parodied in the hit nineties sitcom Seinfeld, in which an entire episode is devoted to finding Jerry’s car in a parking garage with poor signage.

One of the reasons for this “dark aura” this may be found in the Parking Garage’s origin story: Whether constructed below or above ground, parking garages are generally built to be as efficient, inexpensive and unobtrusive as possible. Generally grey and somewhat dingy, many are poorly lit, poorly ventilated and riddled with cracks and crevices, creating hazards and unhealthy environments within.

Updating a garage may seem a mundane task, but it’s critically important to maintain its functionality in order to preserve its value-add to the property.

At 211 West 56th Street, after working on the building’s façade restoration, roof replacement, co-gen installation, electrical upgrade and window replacement, the HLZA architecture and engineering teams set out to repair the four-level parking garage.

We learned that existing plans did not match the ‘as built’ conditions of this garage originally built nearly forty years ago. Therefore, our first step was to act as investigators: we needed to turn to the garage decks, walls, ceilings and HVAC infrastructure to ascertain exactly how the systems were configured.

Once we had a full understanding of the garage’s structure and systems, HLZA repaired concrete and installed a new waterproofing system on three levels and a sealer on the lowest level to mitigate concrete deterioration. Our mechanical engineering team improved the garage ventilation; new exhaust ducts were installed for enhanced ventilation and an additional ventilation system was employed within the garage. The entire steam system (which was not insulated before) was mapped, labeled and insulated requiring a significant investigation tracing the supply and return lines of the system. New heating fans and a heat trace system were installed along with exposed piping, general exhaust and venting. Taking into account the plaza on top of the garage, our plumbing engineers designed the extension of the water supply for irrigation to the plaza. Extra drains were added, unit heaters were replaced, as well as float and trap valves. HLZA prepared electrical lighting and power plans for a new LED lighting upgrade throughout each level of the garage, ensuring safer passage, by foot and by car, within.

By addressing the above concerns, this garage’s functionality, safety and visibility were markedly improved.


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Better Safe Than Sorry: 5 Ways to Prepare Your Building for a FISP Inspection

No building is in perfect condition, particularly in a city as old as New York. Issues from minor maintenance to major damage are often present. Even new buildings are not immune. New York City’s “Façade Inspection Safety Program” (FISP), previously known as Local Law 11, requires that owners of buildings higher than six stories must have exterior walls and appurtenances inspected every five years and that a technical façade report must be electronically filed with the Department of Buildings through DOB NOW: Safety.

An inspection is vital in uncovering building issues that often can be invisible to the untrained eye. While it may be a time-consuming experience that can, at times, seem intrusive, owners will receive a report about the condition of the building in the ultimate interest of making it as safe as possible for tenants, staff and passers-by. The report will also determine whether the Building requires remedial work to comply with Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances of Buildings (RCNY103-04) and obtain the coveted classification of SAFE.

Recently, HLZA conducted a survey of FISP inspectors. Based on their responses, the following are a few suggestions for preparatory building maintenance useful to undertake before an on-site inspection occurs:

1. Building History: Provide and make available any information about the building’s age, construction and subsequent additions and alterations.

2. Maintain accurate and thorough records of the building: Keep a comprehensive documentation of your building. This will aid in a realistic evaluation. These records should include all exterior repairs done in the past with all required and acquired permits. HLZA suggests documenting the building in a digital format. Also make sure to include drawings as a form of reference.

3. Housekeeping & Accessibility: Make sure that all areas of the building are accessible. Remove any stored items or debris to allow the inspector safe access to spaces such as balconies, roofs, terraces and fire escapes. The inspector may need to photograph your building for the inspection report, so clearing the clutter and moving any miscellaneous items from the access/egress areas will also be helpful. Beware of fire escape clutter including flower pots, debris, communications equipment, and air conditioners. Removal of these items will allow the inspection to flow smoothly and help to avoid minor infractions that might impact the classification or timeliness of the report. Please note, that in the eyes of the DOB, even a flower pot on a fire escape or balcony railing can render a building unsafe.

4. Hardware: All hardware should be present, well-attached, and operational. This includes communications equipment – satellite dish and cable antenna connections. Exterior fixtures should be properly installed and securely anchored to the building. Window air-conditioning units should be verified by building staff and installed with either an exterior bracket or interior angle. Building management, personnel and residents must verify that the future installation of window mounted units complies with applicable codes and regulations.

5. The Inspection: Once the inspector has arrived, it is recommended that the Superintendent accompany him or her during the inspection of the property. This is also an excellent opportunity to learn more about the building from a specialist’s point of view. In addition to addressing any inspection concerns, the inspector can also answer any building or code-specific questions that arise.

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Activating Vacant Spaces: Atop 875 Washington Street

by Hope Pollonais and Jared Cole

 875 Washington Street, featuring a mural created by the artistic duo ASVP, is in context with the street art of Meatpacking. Photography: Jack Kucy

Vacant space is ubiquitous in New York City; it’s both a problem and a resource. The city holds more space than most realize and the question remains: just what should we do with empty space?

First, we can recognize the opportunity to create temporary or permanent attractions to revitalize spaces where people can participate. We can create value – a role that architecture can fulfill –  in the activation of spaces. Themes such as color, culture, regeneration and public intervention illustrate architecture’s current potential.

Such an opportunity existed at 875 Washington Avenue where HLZA’s Richard Moses and Jared Cole found a way to place art on a non-historic rooftop bulkhead. They proposed the roof deck solve a social problem and create a beneficial environment for the building.  This roof deck is a significant value-add for the owner of the building and the tenants that will benefit from it.

Continue reading »

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Crime Scene Investigation: The ‘Leak’

by Hope Pollonais

Spray bars are aimed at the windows to detect leakage to the interior

Finding the source of a leak is comparable to solving a crime. Placing a suspect at the scene is a basis of Forensic Architecture. The analysis of evidence creates a link between the perpetrator (water infiltration) and the crime (the leak). The mere fact that the suspect (presence of moisture) was present may be an indication of guilt.

Water penetration into a building’s facade can lead to corrosion of embedded ferrous metals, degradation of façade materials, and leakage into occupied portions of the building. Corrective measures to prevent water penetration are usually not implemented until leakage or an unsafe condition is reported.  Many municipal façade ordinances recognize that water infiltration through a building’s facade should be immediately addressed.

Solving the leak involves the following steps:

  • Investigating the Scene of the Crime: Review the evidence at the scene, be aware of what you’re looking at and what you are looking for.
  • The Tools of the Trade: Learn techniques and tips that will go a long way toward preventing crimes before they happen.
  • Give the Third Degree where lines of questioning and methods of isolating suspicions rules get your ‘leak” to fess up as to where the problems are originating.
  • In the end, you will be ready to see the lineup of The Usual Suspects, common problems that are generally responsible for causing a leak leading to unsafe conditions.


There are thousands of buildings in New York State that require periodic inspection at intervals ranging from one to five years. As more municipalities enact façade ordinances, this number is sure to grow. To keep pace, qualified inspectors are needed who can quickly and effectively perform these inspections. Proper diagnosis of water entry and the implementation of maintenance and repairs can reduce the potential for hazardous conditions developing at a later date.

The inspector’s goal is to assess the water tightness of the building façade and evaluate possible ways in which water can penetrate the building. While performing the façade inspection, the inspector should try to “interview” the building about reported water leakage and earlier repairs implemented to address water infiltration:

  • Were there any water leaks in the past? Get a historical background
  • How long has water been leaking into the building? Remember that leaks usually develop for some time before they are observed or reported.
  • Does water leakage seem to follow a pattern? Look closely at interior and exterior stains. In particular, note the location of water leakage signs relative to features such as window heads and sills, setback walls and roof drains.
  • Under what circumstances is water leaking into the building? Does leakage occur quickly after rain starts, or does it take a while for leakage to develop? If water leakage lags behind rainfall, water may be accumulating under a roof membrane, inside a wall system, or travelling a substantial distance from the infiltration point to the observed leak.
  • Does the building leak every time it rains, only during rainstorms with high winds, or during any other specific weather conditions?

Innocent or Guilty?

The linkage of evidence is the heart and soul of forensics and puts the suspect at the scene. It is up to the ‘police’ and ‘prosecutors’ to prove that the linkage is proof of guilt. The functions of the criminals (water infiltration), the crime lab (the building) and the crime scene investigator (your qualified inspector, like HLZA) are key participants in this drama.

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Peer Review: We’ve Got Your Back!

by Joe Nevins

Peer Review process allows HLZA to add an additional layer of protection in reviewing drawing details.

With the global investment economy that often fuels architectural design and the ever growing concern for liability, a review of the technology and building details of a project is often a sound investment, especially on the back end when the project is being sold or passed to the next generation.

At HLZA, we are often contacted concerning the review of a set of drawings for a new building.   Savvy owners have come to realize that firms that specialize in building envelope analysis, repair, and restoration can be quite useful when a new project is being worked up, because they can leverage the cumulative knowledge of the firm’s experience concerning the failure of materials and techniques.

Science tells us that water is the universal solvent, given enough time.  From raw experience looking at structures ranging from the 1670’s to the 2000’s we are well aware of the issues that water infiltration brings.  Resolving the forces and effects of wind, rain, the ever-present freeze/thaw cycle of the seasons, and the expansion/contraction issues typical to materials, is a challenge in the best of circumstances.  Given the time pressure of modern construction coupled with regulatory requirements adds a different layer of complexity. Continue reading »

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Meet Jared Cole RA, HLZA Project Manager

A Project Associate at HLZA for two years and newly promoted to Project Manager, Jared Cole has worked on multiple projects in the office including a green vegetative roof  at NYU Langone Medical Center and an innovative recreational roof deck in the Meatpacking district.

Jared, did you always know you wanted to be an architect?

Actually, I originally pursued and earned a teaching degree.  I taught English and trained educators in South Korea for three years.  I then returned to school in the US and got a Masters in Architecture.

Has your teaching experience impacted your work in architecture at all?

Both professions require a lot of organization and a lot of patience. Both require a certain amount of flexibility in dealing with people and being able to adapt to changes on the fly.

You were Project Manager on the 875 Washington Street recreational roof deck. What was your thought process there?

We were limited by the roof’s structural capacity and the code regarding how large a deck the tenants could use as an amenity. The size of the roof deck was a bit small, so we wanted to give it a special character to allow it to be a unique “destination”.  There’s a real utilitarian feel to the roof top in fitting in with the Meatpacking District in general, the historic character of the district and a raw underlying aspect due to its history as a once gritty area of the city.

We tried to highlight the utilitarian aspects of the existing roof and make them focal points for the users:  The water tank and metal clad mechanical bulkhead, for example.

We designed uplighting under the water tank so it would be illuminated at night. And it changes colors. It’s visible from nearby and far away. Being that there’s a history of street art in the district, we wanted to mimic this so we installed an art mural on the metal mechanical bulkhead. While street art often arose in neglected areas of the city and was associated with blight, it has become popular in some ways as an intriguing way to engage with social issues and our built environment on a local scale. We’re keeping the theme going. Now the Whitney Museum is nearby and there’s a tradition of street art, and institutional or commissioned public art, so we wanted to extend this up to the rooftop for the users.  A small roof deck with a vividly colored  art mural backdrop is a great conversation piece.

What makes this project unique for HLZA?

It really speaks to the diversity of services we offer.  Richard (Moses) and I tackled it from the architectural perspective; Ilya (Shtulberg) and Bryan (Chester) assessed the roof’s capacity and engineered the whole system; our MEP department designed the electrical and lighting package for lighting up the water tower and the bulkhead.

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