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Avella bill bans self-certifying of new buildings

State Sen. Tony Avella (c.) stands with civic leaders outside his Bayside office to introduce legislation aimed at banning self-certification for building developers. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

The practice of self-certification by developers has long been a thorn in the side of state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), and the lawmaker introduced legislation that he hopes could put an end to it once and for all.

The senator stood outside his district office with northeast Queens civic leaders Friday to promote one of his latest bills, which would discontinue self-certifications of permit applications and inspection reports to reduce fraud. As long as developers are legally allowed to certify themselves, Avella said there will be no guarantees that new projects abide by building codes and zoning laws.

“I have been a longstanding proponent of abolishing the self-certification procedure, which creates huge loopholes for shady developers,” Avella said. “When developers choose to abuse the self-certification process, they create situations that put the public’s safety at risk.”

The DOB did not return calls seeking comment.

Avella fought the city Department of Buildings for years when he served on the City Council, but to no avail. He said he hoped a refocused approach on the state level could overcome the real estate industry’s stronghold on the city.

“A great majority of the illegal construction that goes on in my district and beyond is due to the fact that the building plans were self-certified,” Avella said. “It is clear that we cannot trust unscrupulous and shady developers, whose main interests are profits, not safety, to certify their own plans.”

Angela Augugliaro, president of the Queens Colony Civic Association in Floral Park, said self-certification failed to hold builders accountable for following construction plans. Too many times, the civic leader said, she had seen pre-approved buildings end up violating zoning laws or not adhering to what was originally mapped out without consequence.

“Nothing happens in New York City if the real estate industry doesn’t want it,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance. “Self-certification puts people, workers and pedestrians at risk.”

Michael Castellano, of the Lost Community Civic Association, compared the certification of buildings to that of automobiles to illustrate flaws in the practice.

“You can’t self-certify your car inspections,” Castellano said. “This shouldn’t be any different.”

While allowing applicants to certify plans themselves might speed up the process, Avella argued that fraudulent claims could go unnoticed for years and put construction workers and neighborhood residents at risk. By banning the process altogether and hiring more DOB plan examiners to inspect new plans in the review phase, the senator said the city would save money in the long run.

“With self-certification, the developer is basically saying, ‘My plans are good,’” Avella said. “I understand that the DOB wants to speed up the development process, but this has opened up the flood gates.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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Gael Gibney from Brooklyn, NY says:
Private property owners, not just developers, have been injured by self-certification. Architects have self-certified building plans; building permits have been issued based on those plans. Construction has been started then halted when plans were deemed invalid or incorrect, leaving the property owner financially responsible for correcting and/or returning the property to its original condition, while the architect who self-certified the plans and permits gets off scot free from responsibility and lawsuit, because it's a civil not a criminal matter.

A civil suit takes years to wend its way through the courts and costs thousands of dollars which the property owner must pay in addition to returning his property to its original condition. Meanwhile the architect who caused the blunder has time to hide his assets, skip town or practice under another name until the five year statute of limitations takes effect.

If architects and engineers have the power to self-certify [meaning they decree their plans conform to laws and code, because they say so], they should be criminally not just civilly liable for errors and misrepresentations they make.
May 26, 2013, 10:02 pm

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