NYC Renovation Chronicles

NYC Renovation Chronicles: Work permits--5 jobs that require them, 5 that don't

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The Situation

You are considering undertaking a renovation and don't know whether you need a work permit from the New York Department of Buildings (D.O.B.). Here are the five circumstances in which you need a permit, and five in which you don’t.

The Deal

A work permit is required when:

  1. Taking down a wall  You are making an opening in a wall or taking down a partition wall completely. The D.O.B. does not want to take a risk that an inexperienced contractor will accidentally collapse a building by cutting through a structural column.
  2. Building a wall You are partitioning some apartment space to create another bedroom for, say, your second child. In such cases, the D.O.B. wants to ensure that your contractor builds the wall safely and complies with city codes regarding bedrooms in terms of light, size and ventilation requirements.
  3. Remodeling your kitchen You are changing the position of plumbing fixtures and/or appliances. You need a work permit because plumbing and electrical lines need to be re-routed. If you were simply replacing cabinetry, you could forge ahead without a permit.
  4. Remodeling your bathroom You plan to change the locations of your plumbing fixtures; for example, you want to convert your bathtub to a walk-in shower. As with the kitchen, if you need to relocate electrical and plumbing lines, then, yes, apply for a work permit. If the position of your plumbing fixtures will remain the same, let the job commence.
  5. Installing a new window You would like to install a window where one does not exist. By contrast, you can replace a window in an existing location without a permit, but you will need to hire a licensed firm that specializes in window replacements.

A work permit is not required when:

  1. Installing shelving in your closets  As long as you are not moving your closet’s wall to make your storage space bigger or smaller, you don’t need a work permit to install shelving. You will need to hire a licensed home improvement contractor to do the work.
  2. Replacing your light fixtures Simply changing the fixtures while leaving them in the same location? Go right ahead. Just make sure to hire a licensed electrician to avoid any risk of faulty wiring.
  3. Refinishing your wooden floors Although a work permit is not required, your flooring contractor will need to be a Department of Consumer Affairs licensed home improvement contractor.
  4. Patching and painting The caveat here is that if your building was built before 1978, your painter will need to be an Environmental Protection Agency Lead-Certified Renovator to do the job.
  5. Re-tiling your bathroom or kitchen floor Again, the only requirement is that whoever is doing the work must be a licensed home improvement contractor.

Even with these guidelines, before starting a renovation I advise people to consult a New York State Registered Architect to determine if a work permit is required or not.

Next week: Obtaining a work permit – the cost, and time involved.


Yoel Borgenicht is the president of King Rose Construction, specializing in residential and commercial renovations in the New York City metro area.  

See all NYC Renovation Chronicles.

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