Non-Essential Construction in the City is Suspended Due to COVID-19 Emergency

Governor Cuomo addressing the COVID-19 Crisis Image Credit:
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

All construction permits will need to be active and renewed during the suspension period.  On March 30, 2020, the Department of Buildings announced that all work on non-essential construction and demolition sites is suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Buildings made the decision to suspend such construction and demolition following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s amended executive order and the Empire State Development Corporation’s guidelines. The executive order, which required non-essential businesses and nonprofits to limit in-person work to curb COVID-19 transmission, was amended on March 27, 2020 to include the suspension of all non-essential construction.

According to the executive order and Department of Buildings’s guidance, only emergency construction, essential construction, and construction work that is limited to a single worker on a job site are allowed to continue. Emergency construction is construction needed to protect the health and safety of building occupants, including work to restore utilities and work needed to correct a harmful condition in a building. Emergency construction is also construction work for a project that cannot immediately close down because unfinished work left on the project would be harmful. Construction for this type of work can only be continued until it is safe to shut down the site. Essential construction includes construction for utilities, hospitals, health care facilities, shelters, and new affordable housing projects. The suspension will also not apply to construction for transportation infrastructure such as construction on roads, bridges, rails, airports, and transit facilities.

In order to perform essential, emergency, or solitary construction work, the project’s registered design professional will need to electronically submit an Essential Construction request. According to a Buildings spokesperson, the agency will review all requests on an individual basis and will determine if the construction work is allowed to continue. Buildings will use the criteria set by the guidance to make their decision. An Essential Construction request is not required if the construction work is antenna, construction fence, curb cut, and sidewalk shed work.

Social distancing must be maintained between workers on all active construction sites. Buildings will regularly inspect all construction sites for violations and those who violate the emergency order will face a fine of up to $10,000. Applicants will still need to keep construction permits active and electronically renew them throughout the suspension, regardless if construction work is active or suspended.

The non-essential construction suspension was a result of elected officials and constituents urging Governor Cuomo to not put construction workers at risk. On March 20, 2020, Governor Cuomo suspended all non-essential businesses and work in his Executive Order; however, “essential construction” was not specified. Therefore, most construction in the City continued. Many New Yorkers tweeted anecdotes from construction workers and pictures of construction sites under the hashtag #StopConstruction. Tweets mentioned the unsanitary conditions of construction sites, the lack of social distancing amongst workers, and lack of protective gear on sites and noted how these factors put construction workers at risk of contracting COVID-19.

In response, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Member Brad Lander, and Council Member Carlos Menchaca urged Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, through a series of Twitter posts, to suspend non-essential construction in the City. On March 18, 2020, Public Advocate Williams, Council Member Lander, and Council Member Menchaca sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio, urging him to instruct Buildings to suspend all non-essential construction within the City. In the letter, the elected officials acknowledged that while some construction, such as emergency utility repair work and hospitals and homeless shelter construction, is needed, construction work for luxury condos or commercial buildings is not essential and puts workers’ health at risk. The letter also noted that suspending non-essential construction would allow Buildings to focus on essential and urgent projects such as expanding health care facilities.

Council Member Lander noted that construction sites where workers have tested positive for COVID-19 were not closing and stated that this was “willful blindness, with no regard for the lives of workers or for public health.” Council Member Menchaca explained that stopping non-essential construction would allow more personal protective equipment to be given to hospitals and health care facilities.

New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters, a construction worker labor union, also urged elected officials to shut down non-essential construction, stating that construction workers’ lives are at stake by forcing them to work on non-critical projects.

In response, Governor Cuomo suspended all non-essential construction work and clarified what construction is considered as “essential” on March 27, 2020. On March 30, 2020, Buildings followed the State’s orders and suspended all non-essential construction work in the City. A Buildings spokesperson told CityLand that on the same day, Buildings inspected all non-essential construction sites in the City and required sites to shut down or start to wind down construction on the site so that it could be safely shut down.

Currently, the suspension will be in effect until May 15, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing situation and the end date may be subjected to change. Please continue to follow CityLand as it develops.

Update (As of April 16, 2020): Any Essential Construction requests submitted as emergency construction to protect the safety and health of building occupants, construction work limited to a single worker, or essential construction such as construction for hospitals will be professionally certified. A state-licensed Professional Engineer or Registered Architect must personally certify on their license that the request complies with all applicable codes and zoning regulations. Professionally certifying a request will allow these types of projects to be approved and permitted by Buildings faster. Construction work that does not fall into those three categories will still be individually reviewed by the agency. 

When an Essential Construction request is approved, a Certificate of Authorization must be printed for each approved job and posted at the worksite. The certificate is valid from the date the Essential Construction request was approved until April 29, 2020. If the suspension is extended, the certificate’s end date will automatically be updated. A new certificate with the new date will need to be posted at the worksite. 

On April 16, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended his executive order, which includes the non-essential construction suspension, until May 15, 2020.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2019.)

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