What is self-certification?
It means that an architect or engineer hired by a building owner either to modify or construct a building (such as 50 West 69th Street, among others) can make statements to the Department of Buildings that components of the construction process are safe (when in fact they may not be).
These self-certification components include but are not limited to installation of the girders, the bolts, the concrete, the fireproofing, the wiring, and also that they are adhering to public safety issues regarding the proper removal of lead or asbestos from the property, in addition to many more aspects – whereupon they make statements to the Department of Buildings (DOB) that these separate functions are being performed to code (when in fact they may not be).
As of 1995 even the design of the project itself (including the basement excavation currently under way at 50 West 69th Street) can be “self-certified.”
ABUSE OF THE SELF CERTIFICATION PROCESS:
The fact that these architects, engineers work for the developer, landlord means they owe their fiduciary responsibility to those person(s) – not just because this is where they receive payment but because in many cases, they do more than one job for the developer, landlord.
EXAMPLE OF HOW THE PROCESS IS ABUSED:
In 2008 Leon St. Clair Nation, an engineer, submitted fake plans and doctored photographs to the DOB for three projects in Brooklyn. One of them included false statements for alterations to the “second floor” when in fact it was a one-story building where a second story was being added. The only punishment given Leon St. Clair Nation was a temporary two year revocation of his ability to submit plans to the Department of Buildings.
There are approximately 48% (conservative number) of false filings in New York City and of these, when caught, the Department of Buildings lacks the resources to go back to the cited properties to ensure that the building is being built to code and the public safety guidelines are adhered to.
The information found in New York City’s Department of Buildings system is as reliable as the information submitted by architects and engineers employed by the landlord or developer. As someone who has been in the real estate industry for decades and who has witnessed my fair share of abuses, I have learned that the safety and integrity of the public DOB files are to be taken with a grain of salt.