Thursday, September 20, 2007

More Complaints About Complaining to the Buildings Department

We've got to say that we don't have any personal experience with calling 311 to file a complaint with the Department of Buildings, but we do have experience with people that have done so and become frustrated in the process. There are those that claim they call to lodge a complaints about things like after-hours construction that are not investigated or that are investigated in such a way that the original problem is gone by the time the building inspectors show up.

There are also those that complain they can no longer get information over the phone about what permits a particular building or contractor may or may not have. For instance, blogger Bad Advice recounts this tale of inquiring about whether a contractor had building permits in place:

I looked up the address on the DOB website, but couldn't decipher whether or not the demolition permits had been granted. I could tell they'd been applied for but they use all this weird coding that normal people without an extensive construction background can't understand. So I called 311 and attempted to talk to a human.

The operator connected me to the Department of Buildings, where a cheery young woman informed me that I'd have to look on the website to see if there were any permits.

I told her that I'd done that, but couldn't decipher what the codes meant. I asked her to help me figure it out and offered to give her all identifying details. She refused.

I didn't understand, as I just wanted to know what a bunch of letters meant. She cheerfully restated her position that the only thing she could do was direct me to the website and wondered aloud whether they were doing work without a permit.

Of course, anyone can access the Department of Buildings Building Information System (BIS) website. Fairly up to date information is available there on every building in the city. The problem is that the entire system is written in professional code and that the average person has little hope of deciphering the information.

The screen above comes from the page for 90 N. 9th Street in Williamsburg, which we posted about yesterday in relation to its very dangerous scaffold and overall look of abandonment. We understand what the each of the entries say, but does an average person stand a chance of determining if the workers banging away at 10:30 on Sunday morning have a permit? We do undertand that it's a government website and that it contains technical information about permits. We also know that there are documents on the site explaining the abbreviations and codes, still, there should be a way for people to get information in a way that they can understand. (For instance, over the phone from someone who can translate into English.)

One would be tempted to suggest that the system has been set up to deliberately make it harder for citizens to find out what's going on, but that would be cynical, wouldn't it?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last night when I called 311 to report illegal after-hours construction (because the fine folks at 143 Huron were making an atrocious amount of noise) the operator asked me if I actually saw anyone working. I told her I had gone to the roof of my building and looked at the site in question: two men were working.

It would be safe to deduce that if there is NOISE emanating from this construction site someone MUST be working. Unless, of course, all that sheet metal was riveting and/or hammering itself. If it wasn't so annoying this would have been so absurd as to be funny.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just so you know, "the department of buildings" = "the fire department". maybe it's an abuse of the system, but a call to 9-1-1 might get more attention, if you call and express concern a scaffold is in danger of collapsing. maybe you were just speaking with the wrong person at the DOB... always as for someone higher up.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the info you wanted actually is on the website.

There's a glossary (link is on the bottom of most DOB pages):

And there's a PDF that has all the various codes I think you're looking for:

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

come on guys, their site isn't that difficult to figure out. Last I checked "permit entire" isn't exactly engineer speak

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its true, the turnaround time is horrible. there should be an on-staff DOB person that handles all calls, similar to police. An inspector that goes out and responds to night calls that night or within 24 hours. SL Green was doing demo from 7pm to 1am everyday behind my apartment. I called and called. Took 6 business days for a response. (which seems to be the typical length of time). They were still doing it during that time period however every time they supposedly did a night visit, 'nothing was found'. they had dust and debris pouring out of the building. Its was so obvious. I think the inspectors dont want to do paperwork or even a site visit, so they say they went and really didnt.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the DOB takes too long to respond. Point blank. If someone is doing construction, the response time is min 6 business days. Even then, they usually "find nothing" which I believe is a cop out for "i didnt visit the site or want to do paperwork, so i 'found nothing'". They are understaff and underqualified. the whole dept needs an overhaul.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I"ve complained about after hours construction at 530 3rd Ave 3 times

Once they didn't even file the complaint. For the complaints I filed on the 15th and 16th, they sent somebody out on May 28th!

Awesome. The system works.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'mon...we ALL know that 311 was set up to blow us-the public- off!
Calling those 3 numbers (I've done so many times), only accomplishes to get the caller more upset than he/she was
in the first place!

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with 12:58. The city has set up "311" to vet contacts to city agencies, yet the operators often don't know what agency is responsible. An example: "sidewalk shed" obstructs WALK/DON'T WALK sign. Traffic or Buildings? They couldn't say. On multiple calls I was transferred to both (and each, of course, said it was the other). The shed came down before I got an answer.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are, according to the DOB website, 950,000 buildings in New York to be covered by a couple of hundred inspectors all of whom can hear and see. Do the math.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Let me first comment, how great your blog is. I found it while I was looking on the internet for consumer product complaints. During my search I have also found excellent and funny site about product complaints.

Check them out. You will like them.


9:07 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home