Comptroller’s audit found that Buildings generally implemented adequate controls over construction permit applications, but issued three recommendations to ensure public safety. On June 17, 2016, the Officer of the Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report of an audit conducted on the Department of Buildings’ processing of construction permits. The audit determined that Buildings’ controls for the processing of application were implemented consistently, that there were appropriate separation of duties, and an adequate application tracking system. Furthermore, Buildings verifies the current licensing of architects and engineers associated with applications.
The Department of Buildings issues construction permits for demolitions, construction of new buildings, and alterations. Applications for these types of work may be submitted directly by a property owner, or prepared and submitted by a licensed professional engineer or registered architect. Applications submitted by a property owner are reviewed by a Buildings plan examiner to make certain they are compliant with building and construction rules and regulations. Applications submitted on the behalf of property owners by an architect or engineer are not reviewed by an agency plan examiners as long as the licensed professional certifies that the submitted plans conform to applicable rules and regulations, thus accelerating the permit acquisition process. Buildings audit a percentage of professionally certified applications to ensure that all necessary documents are included in the application, and that the application complies with necessary rules and regulations.
The Comptroller audit did find areas of weakness that could increase the risk of permits issued for non-compliant projects. In the audit’s period of scope, Buildings’ rules mandated that 20 percent of professionally certified applications be audited by Buildings on a weekly basis. The Comptroller’s auditors found that only 10.9 percent of applications processed during the scope period were audited by Buildings. Buildings subsequently revised the auditing requirements, replacing the 20 percent mandate with a “representative sample,” based on a revised risk paradigm. The Comptroller’s office noted that the new requirements would likely result in a lower number of audits, increasing the risk that deficiencies in applications would go undetected. In the certified applications reviewed by Buildings during that audit’s scope period, 68 percent were found to have deficiencies, often resulting in a stop-work order or corrective actions.
The Comptroller’s office made three recommendations in its report: (1) That Buildings ensure that follow-up action is taken in all instances where deficiencies are found in applications; (2) that Buildings seek more staff, adequate to review the required number of applications; and (3) that the agency review its professional certification audits goals, taking into account the potential risk to public safety.
Buildings responded to the report by agreeing to strengthen controls in following up on non-compliant permits, and stating that the agency has begun an initiative to hire more plan examiners. Buildings partially agreed with the third recommendation, but said it would better serve the public with its modified audit policy.
Audit Report on the Department of Buildings’ Controls over the Processing of Construction Permits, MG15-112A, NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer (June 17, 2016).