New York, New York . . . Its Building Department Is Anything But Wonderful

This won’t be real news to those readers who are involved in land-use control/development, but we recommend that you read an article in the business section in today’s NY Times. Joanne Kaufman, Expedite This! N.Y. Times, Dec. 14, 2014, at p. 10 (Real Estate, Business Section). Click here

It’s a story about what it takes in the Big Apple just to make out and file the application for a permit, and what a story it is. Would you believe that there is an entire profession of “expediters” (currently numbered 8,300) who stand in line for hours (like from 5:30 AM to 2:00 PM) just to file the required paperwork, so it can be nitpicked by a city functionary who as often as not rejects the filing because the papers are not filled out the right way. Apparently doing it the “right way” is an art form that not even experienced “expediters” get right every time.

“The keys to expediter success include comfortable shoes, optimism, an awareness of just which long line is the right  long line and a willingness to show up at the Building Department long before dawn to be first on this or that list  to see this or that examiner — the agency staff member who can green-light a construction job or stop it cold.


“The impediments: ever changing rules, delays in processing forms — though according to Department of Buildings data, wait times are growing shorter — and the fact that expediters are limited to three pieces of business each time they get up to a service window, whether that means three tasks for one project or one each for three discrete clients. Then it’s back in line.”


Back in the early 1990s there were some 300 to 400 “expediters,” but now their numbers are up to more than 8300. Moreover, (a) this rigmarole applies to simple remodeling jobs as well as to (b) proposals to put up skyscrapers. Each “expediter” must register with the city and pay an annual $50 fee for the right to spend his or her time mostly standing in line.

By now you get the idea. We like the concise summary of a professional engineer who is quoted by the Times as summing it up thus: “The whole system is much more screwed up than you could ever really imagine.”


One thought on “New York, New York . . . Its Building Department Is Anything But Wonderful

  1. Pingback: Around the Block with Frank December 22, 2014

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