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Before you start to create your dream home, you'll have to take these steps. (142 East 71st Street, #1A - The Agency Brokerage) Before you start to create your dream home, you'll have to take these steps. (142 East 71st Street, #1A - The Agency Brokerage)
Whether you’ve just purchased a condo or coop, are updating your current unit, or doing a pre-sale renovation, you'll need to grab a pen before you grab a sledgehammer. That's because local renovations often require as much paperwork as construction. This article describes how to legally renovate your condo or coop unit in New York City.

Hire a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer

If you're working on a homestead in New Hampshire, you may be able to do it yourself. But in New York City, it is nearly always better to hire a professional to oversee the project. This primarily reflects the fact that in order to carry out any apartment renovation, you'll need a registered architect or professional engineer to file your plans and gain approval from the NYC Department of Buildings ("NYC DOB"). Beyond helping file the necessary paperwork, a trained professional can also help you navigate the many other rules and regulations you'll need to navigate throughout the renovation.

Gain Condo or Coop Board Approval

Once you've contracted with a professional (in most cases, a registered architect), you must ensure that your planned renovation complies with your building's policies. The details are worked out in a document commonly known as an alteration agreement, essentially a contract between an individual apartment owner and their building board. The agreement details the building rules regarding renovations, including what types of renovations are permitted and when construction work can occur – some coops only allow work to take place at certain times of year and then between certain hours of the day.
While minor renovations (e.g., updating a bathroom) are usually not a problem, major renovations (e.g., relocating a kitchen, adding an additional bathroom, or taking down a wall) often face challenges from building boards. The reason for this is simple. If you live in a private home, you can relocate the building's infrastructure. If you live in a multi-unit dwelling, gas, water, and sewage lines are typically located in a set location. As a result, moving a kitchen or bathroom doesn't just impact your unit but has an impact on the entire building. For this reason, it is important to give yourself ample time to finalize your alteration agreement, and it is always best to avoid scheduling the start of work until the agreement has been signed.

File with the Department of Buildings for a Permit

Once your coop or condo has given you the green light, it is time to move on to the next round of paperwork. This round entailed gaining approval for the NYC DOB. Although some minor alterations (e.g., replacing kitchen cupboards) don't require a permit from the NYC DOB, most renovations do.
The NYC DOB outlines three categories of alterations:

  • ALT1: Major alterations that will change use, egress or occupancy
  • ALT2: Multiple types of work, not affecting use, egress or occupancy
  • ALT3: One type of minor work, not affecting use, egress or occupancy
The good news is that to speed up the certification process, the NYC DOB does permit registered architects and professional engineers to self-certify (i.e., to submit and verify that their plans comply with local bylaws). If you're working with a registered architect or professional engineer who participates in the Professional Certification (Pro Cert) Program, you may receive approval in just a day. Before pursuing this option, however, confirm that your board approves of self-certification since some condo or coop boards will only allow projects to go forward if they have been approved by the NYC DOB itself.

Hire a Contractor and Get Ready for Additional Inspections

After you get the go-ahead from your condo or coop board and the NYC DOB, it's time to find a contractor or contractors to carry out the project. In addition to finding someone you trust to do a great job that complies with your alteration agreement, ensure your contractors have insurance, including personal liability and property damage insurance. Most condos and coops require contractors to be insured for at least $1,000,000 before starting any renovations, but even if you live in a building where this isn't a requirement, it is always a good idea to make this a condition of hire.

Once the renovation is underway, be prepared for visits from city inspectors to ensure full compliance with the plan your architect or engineer filed with the NYC DOB. Once the job is complete, also be prepared for a final inspection from the city. While contractors may opt to self-certify their work, self-certifications are subject to random audits.

Make Peace with Your Neighbors

While not required by law, it is also highly advisable to reach out to your neighbors before starting any renovation. While you may not be able to muffle the sound of a demolition, giving your neighbors advance warning before your contractors arrive is generally a good idea. A note slipped under any adjacent neighbor doors letting them know about your renovation plans and timeline is usually sufficient. As a courtesy, it is also always nice to invite them to reach out to you if there are any problems since you likely won't be on-site supervising the construction crew. If you are engaging in a particularly long and loud renovation and want to repair damaged relationships with your neighbors, sending a small thank-you gift when the renovation is complete is another nice touch.

If this hasn't scared you off, and if you're looking for a new project in the new year, we present a selection of listings in need of work. They truly don't make them like they used to, and these homes offer excellent bones and generous square footage that allow a buyer to put their own stamp on the place.

Bryant Park Place, #4A (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

Hillman Coop, #D7E (LoHo Realty Inc)

870 Riverside Drive, #5D (Compass)

430 East 57th Street, #11C (Compass)

142 East 71st Street, #1A (The Agency Brokerage)

West Greenpoint Lofts, #5 (Compass)

1010 Fifth Avenue, #4BB (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

Cannon Point North, #19A (Sothebys International Realty)

West Village Houses, #GA (Compass)

Park Towers, #25EF (Compass)

25 East 86th Street, #3A (Compass)

1021 Park Avenue, #13D (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

630 Park Avenue, #5C (Sothebys International Realty)

7 Worth Street, #4 (Compass)

825 Fifth Avenue, #17C (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)
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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.