Following the unpopular destruction of Penn Station and resulting outcry in 1965, the government established the Landmark Preservation Commission to protect the city’s most culturally and historically relevant buildings from suffering a similar fate. Over the years, this has helped New York retain some of its personality even as it has embarked on a massive departure from its gritty roots and reemerged as a touristy hub and financial backbone of the country. However, for all the good that the LPC has done, its ‘Landmark Building’ and ‘Historic District’ designations have proven to be a bureaucratic pain for real estate developers and individual homeowners alike.
Per the LPC, buildings that fall under the “Landmark Preservation Law” are subject to stringent LPC regulations. A building can be included in one of two ways—either by specific designation as a landmark building, or by its location in an area classed as a “historic district.” Either way, the end result is the same—the LPC has a strict say on what work can and can’t be done. Unless the building is designated as an interior landmark, most of the LPC’s concerns focus on alterations to the building’s exterior, which cannot be altered in such a way that it changes the ‘character’ of the building or district. Before any work on such a building is granted a permit by the DOB, the LPC must approve the proposed changes. In addition, the LPC must grant permission for even minor work that wouldn’t normally require any DOB notification at all.
To this end, the LPC issues three types of approvals, which are dependent on the extensiveness of the proposed work:
- Certificate of No Effect (CNE), issued when the proposed work won’t affect the architectural features of the building.
- Permit for Minor Work (PMW), issued when the proposed work is on protected architectural features that normally does not require a DOB permit (such as painting the building exterior).
- Certificate of Appropriateness (COFA), issued when the work significantly affects building features and requires a DOB permit regardless of landmark status.
Of the three, COFA is by far the most difficult to obtain. Whereas CNEs and PMWs can be issued by LPC staff, the entire LPC board must hold a hearing for a COFA and unanimously approve it.
It’s important to check on your building’s landmark status before starting any sort of work. Should you make unauthorized changes to a landmark building, the LPC can demand you restore the altered features to their original state within 20 days of their first issued warning. Failure to do so will result in hefty fines and penalties.