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Published: Summer 1998

LANDMARKS ENFORCEMENT LAW DESIGNED TO CATCH FLAUNTERS BUT TO TREAT MISTAKES GENTLY

Local Law 1 of 1998 took effect on July 5, 1998. It authorizes the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to seek significant civil fines for violations of the Landmarks Law if the offender has disregarded two notices to cure the violation. The Landmarks Commission welcomes this law as a needed enforcement tool, and surely not as a revenue producer for the City. Prior to its enactment, the Commission had to bring criminal actions against violators. By decriminalizing the enforcementprocess, the City hopes to speed the correction of innocent violations of the landmark law and deal in a more targeted way with those who violate deliberately.

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission was created in the early 1960's to protect historic and cultural sites throughout the city. It is authorized to investigate buildings older than 30 years, appraise their architectural, historical or cultural merits, and, after public hearings, designate them as landmarks. It similarly designates entire areas as Landmarked Districts.

Landmarking a building protects it from demolition and enables the Commission to regulate alterations. The Landmarks Law also prohibits the Department of Buildings (DOB) and certain other City agencies from issuing permits until after the Commission has first approved the work.

When an uncured Landmarks violation exists, no permits for other work will be issued. Thus, in a cooperative or condominium, if work done in one unit violates the Landmarks Law (e.g., installing a window without a permit that does not conform to established standards), the DOB will not issue permits for any work anywhere in the building until the violation has been cured. Recognizing that this system was often unfair, the Commission worked closely with the City Council to draft the 1998 law.

The Landmarks Law requires that owners, tenants, contractors and an
LANDMARKS CONSERVANCY
TO PRESENT
CNYC SEMINAR SERIES

The Landmarks Conservancy is a private not-for-profit organization which has been working to protect and preserve important structures in the City of New York. In the course of its very successful 25-year history, the Conservancy has helped save many buildings from demolition and has advised in the rehabilitation of countless others.

The Conservancy compiles and shares information about building restoration, including sources and uses of esoteric and traditional materials and methods, and listings of professionals skilled in every aspect of building construction, restoration and preservation.

The Conservancy is totally independent of City government, though it has often worked in cooperation with the Landmarks Commission on the restoration and maintenance of landmarked buildings.

CNYC and the Landmarks Conservancy will jointly present a three-part seminar series in the spring of 1999 to help CNYC members take better control of the preservation of their own buildings. Experts will provide advice on preventive care and quality restoration treatments designed to help every building -- particularly yours -- look its best and be in the best of shape. Board members, house committee members, management personnel and building superintendents will all benefit from this important series. As plans are developed, CNYC will advise members through the Newsletter at this Website.

y others "in charge" of a landmark obtain a permit from the Commission before doing any work on the building that affects the exterior or otherwise requires a permit from the DOB. The law also places an affirmative duty on owners to maintain landmarked property "in good repair." When feasible, the Commission will seek to bring an action against the individual responsible for the violation.

A violation is cured by obtaining a permit from the Commission. The permit will either legalize the work as is (in cases where the Commission would have issued a permit if one had been applied for in the first place) or will require that the illegal work be modified or replaced. In the latter situations, the violation is cured only after the remedial work has been done and the Commission issues a Notice of Compliance (NOC). In some situations, a violation may be cured by simply removing the illegal addition -- a sign, for example -- without having to receive a permit. However, it is important to consult the Landmarks Commission before removing anything to ensure that the removal work won't aggravate the problem or create a new one.

The civil fine program works as follows:

1. The Warning Letter. After the Landmarks Commission determines that a violation has occurred, it is required in most cases to send a warning letter to the violator before an official Notice of Violation (NOV) is served. The warning letter will generally describe the violation, providing an opportunity to legalize or otherwise cure the violation within a prescribed time frame. If the illegal violation is quickly cured, no further action will be taken. A warning letter is not required where the violation is alleged to be intentional, where the agency is seeking penalties for violation of a stop work order, or where it is serving a second or subsequent NOV for the same illegal condition.

2. The Notice of Violation. If the violation is not cured, the agency will serve a Notice of Violation, which functions as the official "ticket." The NOV will describe the location and type of violation and will set a hearing date at the Environmental Control Board. However, no penalty will be imposed if the person who receives the NOV pleads guilty to the violation and applies to the Commission within seven days before the hearing date to legalize or otherwise cure the violation. This is the second grace period. If the violation is subsequently cured, the case is closed.

3. The Hearing. The NOV can be contested at the ECB hearing. If the finding is in favor of the defendant, no fine will be imposed. But if it is determined that a violation has occurred, a civil penalty will be assessed. The defendant then has 25 days to cure the violation before a second NOV can be served.

4. The Second NOV for the Same Condition(s). If a condition remains uncured, the Commission may serve a second NOV for the same violation. The second NOV imposes an automatic fine. Depending on the violation, the defendant will be liable for a minimum penalty of either $500 or $5,000 and the court may assess additional penalties of up to $250 per day going back to when the defendant admitted or was found liable, until the violation is cured.

Local Law 1 identifies two types of violations that can be tried by the ECB. Fines vary depending on the severity of the violations. Type A Violations are serious alterations to important architectural or historic elements. Type A violations that remain uncured through the process described above are punishable by a civil fine of up to $5,000 for a first violation and up to $250 per day for subsequent violations. There is a minimum fine of $5,000 if the illegal condition is not cured and a second NOV is served. A Type B violation is for all other, less serious violations, including the removal of a single window, painting a building facade or the installation of a light, sign, flagpole or banner. Uncured Type B Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $500 for the first violation and up to $50 per day for subsequent violations. There is a minimum fine of $500 if the illegal condition is not cured and a second NOV is served. The most serious violations -- such as the partial demolition of a landmark -- cannot be tried in an administrative court.

The Commission is authorized to issue "stop work orders" when it discovers work in progress without proper authorization. Violations of a stop work order are punishable by a fine of up to $500 per day.
Questions about the Landmarks Protection Law, can be directed to Don Bosse, Esq. or Lily Fan, Esq. at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (212) 487-6000.

 
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