Buildings mistakenly issued a certificate allowing conversion of SROs. The owner of a four-story building located at 614 West 138th Street sought to convert single room occupancy units to Class A apartments, which requires a Certificate of No Harassment from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development before Department of Buildings approval.
When the owner applied to HPD for a certificate, HPD denied the request because it found reasonable cause to suspect tenant harassment. Despite HPD’s denial, Buildings approved the conversion. When Buildings discovered its mistake, it filed an appeal with BSA to revoke its approval more than nine months after its final determination, and well after the thirty-day statute of limitations.
The owner argued that the building was reconfigured to Class A apartments before the Administrative Code’s requirement that HPD approve all conversions of single room occupancy units came into effect in 1983. When it purchased the building in a 1996 mortgage foreclosure sale, the owner claimed it was told by the mortgagee that a prior owner had converted the single room occupancy units to Class A apartments more than ten years earlier. The owner, however, could not provide any documentation to support this assertion other than two affidavits from neighborhood residents. The owner also claimed that the harassment claims were simply an attempt by tenants to extort money. Lastly, the owner argued that Buildings was time-barred from filing an appeal with BSA.
BSA ruled in favor of Buildings, finding that the affidavits produced by the owner lacked specificity regarding the circumstances surrounding the alleged conversion. Moreover, BSA ruled that the Code’s requirements for HPD approval are not ambiguous and that a government agency is not estopped from correcting its own errors.