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Q. I’m renovating my bathroom, and I don't want to spend more than I have to. How do I know whether I have to file permits with the Department of Buildings--and what to file? I've heard this can add thousands of dollars in extra costs, slow a renovation down, and require an expediter.
A. First, the good news: If you’re just looking to change out the aesthetic features of the bathroom and keep everything in the same location (including the sink, toilet, and shower/tub), then generally you won’t need a permit or an expediter. That goes for installing new tiles, plumbing fixtures (toilet, vanity, sink, faucet, shower body/controls), and lighting.
But if you plan to change the layout of the bathroom by moving the toilet or sink to a new location, then a permit is a must.
And some condo and co-op boards require that you get permits, even if they wouldn’t ordinarily be required by the city (what can we say, buildings can be a pain sometimes).
Your building will also require you to sign an alteration agreement, which states the normal rules, requirements, and limitations to what can be done on your space. Sometimes the building will require that you put down a security payment that’s held in escrow and returned once the job is completed -- though if the workmen cause any damage to the hallways etc., the building will take it out of your deposit.
Now back to permits. First, find out if you have to have to apply for the permit. Start by calling the DOB or visit them in person to get information on what you need --getting a permit varies on a case-by-case basis.
If you wind up having to apply, the DOB can request architectural blueprints for things like plumbing changes, meaning there would be an added cost. How much that cost is will depend on the specifics of your property and the scope of your project.
Most people hire an expediter to navigate the DOB approvals process. Expediters act as liaisons between you and the DOB and can help figure out which permits you need, as well as facilitate the paperwork. Their fees can range up to $1,500 - $2,000. Some charge per trip, others charge/bill through an architect or contractor they work with, says Michael Daryani, a project manager at SMZako.
“The DOB can be a frustrating place, where you can have an official tell you one day that you need a certain type of permit, then the next time you go, they tell you it’s an entirely new type of permit or filing because of some new circumstance they’ve just noticed--such as a landmark building, etc.,” Daryani says.
“Sometimes you may be required to hire an architect to get the permits sorted, and their fees range from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the architect you choose, and the scope of work of your project."
What's important to know is that getting permits may take time, and you have to have the permit in order before you start construction.
Fraser Patterson is a former general contractor and the founder of Bolster, a NYC-based company that guarantees the price and outcome of home improvement projects with a first-of-its-kind Home Improvement Project Bond. For more information, visit http://www.getbolster.com. To ask a renovation question, click here.