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 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
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
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
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.