Audit faults Buildings on self-certification program

Comptroller found that Buildings did not audit requisite percentage of professionally certified building permit applications. City Comptroller John C. Liu issued an audit report on Buildings’ compliance with its rules governing the internal auditing of professionally certified building applications. The audit found, among other things, that Buildings audited a “significantly lower” number of applications than required, and that Buildings’ borough offices in Brooklyn and Queens failed to fully review certain audit applications.

The professional certification program was created in 1995 and allows registered architects and licensed engineers to “self-certify” certain building permit applications by affirming that the plans comply with all applicable codes and laws. Self-certified applications bypass examination by Buildings, but the program’s rules require Buildings to randomly audit at least 20 percent of the applications. Audits must be performed within ten days after a permit has been obtained.

The Comptroller’s Office concluded that only 55 percent of the 10,094 applications selected for audit by Buildings in Fiscal Year 2010 were actually audited. Further, the Comptroller’s Office had difficulty determining whether an accurate number of applications were subject to auditing due to Buildings’ unreliable and inconsistent data.

The Comptroller’s Office also found that Buildings’ Brooklyn and Queens offices did not select New Building (NB) and Alteration Type 1 (Alt-1) applications for auditing. The Brooklyn and Queens offices prior to issuing NB and Alt-1 permits reviewed these applications for zoning compliance only. Therefore, according to the Comptroller’s Office, Buildings withheld these applications from audit review of “critical matters such as fire safety, egress, and disability act compliance.”

The Comptroller’s report made eight recommendations, including that Buildings implement controls to ensure that all applications selected for audit are actually audited, and that the Brooklyn and Queens offices conduct audits of all types of building permit applications as required by Buildings’ policies and procedures.

Buildings generally agreed with the Comptroller’s recommendations, stating that it was committed to audit the target number of professionally certified applications despite a reduction of staff in its review departments. As to issues related to the Brooklyn and Queens offices, Buildings said that the zoning review was prioritized over other audit items because issues such as bulk, height, and setback are “extremely hard” to cure once construction begins. Liu responded that Buildings’ emphasis on conducting zoning reviews should not preclude reviewing other safety and regulatory matters as required by the agency’s own policies and procedures.

Audit Report on the Department of Buildings’ Audit of Professionally Certified Building Applications, Office of the Comptroller, June 7, 2011.

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