What To Expect When Filing Plans With The Building Department

All building departments differ from one another in many ways. They differ from state to state, from city to city and even from town to town. In the case of New York City, they even differ from borough to borough and there are 5 of them. This makes it very difficult to comply with all of their requirements, especially if their websites have limited or no information regarding requirements for the architect to follow. Adding to that nightmare is the fact that building officials are people, each with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. Each building official also has their own ideas of what a set of plans needs to be approved for a building permit.

With that being said, one thing is certain. When you file a set of plans for review by the building official, the set is rarely approved the very first time. More often than not, they are rejected 2 or 3 times until the building official is satisfied with the revisions they requested. This can make the process of filing incredibly frustrating and infuriating for the client, because delays cost time and money. But, these delays are just as frustrating for the architect as well. Not only because the building official is halting the process, but also because it may make the client feel like the architect has made errors, should have known what to expect or somehow clairvoyantly included the information being requested.

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That is one of the biggest misconceptions. It is not possible for the architect to know exactly what the building official will look for on that particular day, making many of the objections seem arbitrary.  Building officials have a myriad of reasons for rejecting the plans, which may seem to include one or more of the following:

  • Being in a bad mood

  • Being drunk

  • Unhappy with their job

  • Unhappy with their life

  • A bad marriage

  • No marriage because they were left at the altar

  • Loathing of all architects

  • Client is too ugly

  •  Client is too pretty

  •  A superiority complex

  •  An inferiority complex

  • Mommy/ daddy issues

  • Their hatred of rainbows and puppies

  • Or they’re just a miserable human being

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Whatever the reason one fact is clear, they will not approve your plans unless you appease them in some way. Either by showing additional obscure information on the plans, handing them your first born child…or both.

All kidding aside, most building officials are good, well intentioned people who care about their job and the safety of the public. They take their job very seriously and on occasion a little too seriously. But, they are just people looking out for everyone, so let’s cut them some slack. How do I know? Because I was a building official with the NYC Department of Buildings.

Clients tend to get upset with their architect for these types of delays, which is basically misplaced hostility and counterproductive. The reality is that in most cases, the architect has very little to do with the revisions being requested by the building official and very much to do with just an honest request for additional information. Does this mean that architects never make mistakes? Of course it does! ……..Ok, just kidding.  Believe it or not, it’s impossible not to make any errors. I know, crazy right!?!?  But if a client expects there to be no mistakes, then their expectations are a bit unrealistic. As awesome as architects appear to be, we too make mistakes. However, architects typically don’t charge any additional fees to correct their own errors. When this situation occurs the best thing for a client to do is go out and have a drink or two, alright maybe three and try to be patient. A client should especially be patient with their architect because they are going through it together and the architect is their greatest ally.

Once all revisions are made and the building official approves, a building permit is issued and construction can begin…..AKA: the real nightmare. (cue the Vincent Price “Thriller” laugh)