‘I only want to know what I need for TCO’: ‘I have my signoffs. Where’s my TCO?’

By Austin Regan, R.A.

Where has the summer gone? It was way back in July that we discussed getting the third of the required division signoffs:

  • Construction Division
  • Elevator Division
  • Plumbing Division

So the signoffs are in place. Why is there no TCO? Two major actions still need to take place. The first is commissioner’s review and approval, followed by Certificate of Occupancy (CO) review and issuance. We will discuss the last step first because it may be the least subjective of all steps we discussed.

Certificate of Occupancy Division Review

The criteria in the CO division reviews are black and white. Every DOB filing has a list of required items needed: first for approval, then permit, and lastly, signoff. These items are listed in the application’s computer records and are available for public viewing. The required items list identifies individual items, one per line, and indicates at which of the three project stages the item is required. This list also includes a column showing the date that the item was received.

By the time of TCO submission, all dates are filled in on the received column except those items required for signoff. To get a Final CO, every one of the items required for signoff must be received. While not every item is required for TCO, the following required items must be submitted, or the CO division will reject the submittal.

  1. All Special and Progress Inspections. The list of inspections may be as short as one or two, or it could total in the dozens. If any inspection is missing, the submittal will be rejected. For a building that is only ready for a partial TCO, the special inspectors may only be able to issue a partial signoff for limited floors. Discussions with the third-party inspectors should start early so the team understands what they need to issue the partial signoffs required. The inspectors will sign off on the TR-1 form. The CO division will also check the computer records to confirm that the initial TR-1s required at permit time are all scanned into the system and that the inspector who is signing off is the same who signed up. If the initial TR-1s are missing or the inspector has changed, additional paperwork will be required.
  2. All Energy Code inspections. The above requirements and process hold for the TR-8 energy code inspections also.
  3. Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Detector affidavit. For all residential buildings and other occupancies where required, this affidavit, signed and sealed by a licensed electrician, must be submitted. The affidavit certifies that the detectors are operational and installed as per code.

The CO division will reject your request if any of the above is not submitted completely and correctly. Other items that could cause the request to be rejected include the following:

  1. Unpaid fees. There is a $100 fee required for each TCO that gets issued. Also, if a job was filed with the initial filing fees deferred (common with HPD-sponsored jobs), those fees will be due at time of the initial TCO issuance.
  2. Open amendments. If there is an active Post Approval Amendment on the application, the computer system will not allow the TCO to be issued. The commissioner can waive this item.
  3. Open audit. If the application has been audited and the audit is not resolved, the TCO will not be issued. The commissioner can waive this item, but you need a really good explanation to convince him or her why they should.
  4. Conflict(s) between commissioner’s approval with division chief’s signoffs. Such discrepancies can be an issue when going for partial building TCOs. The commissioner and the construction and plumbing chiefs all need to issue temporary signoffs that approve issuance for the same floors and spaces.
  5. Equipment Use Cards. The CO Division issues the Equipment Use Cards, which are required for all condenser units over two tons. Although the division will issue a TCO without the submittal of Equipment Use permits, the FDNY has visited new buildings that recently received their first TCO and issued violations for not having these cards on site.

If none of the above trips you up, your TCO will be issued. The maximum time a TCO can be issued for is 90 days. The commissioner can specify a shorter time frame. Of course, the CO Division review does not even start unless you have obtained commissioner’s approval.

Commissioner’s Review

Issuance of the TCO is entirely at the discretion of the Borough Commissioner. Each commissioner emphasizes different criteria, but there are some common threads. The commissioners normally delegate the review of TCO requests. Project advocates or deputy commissioners typically conduct the actual review.

Upon securing the signoffs from the three required divisions, the request for TCO approval can be dropped off for review. You may not have all the items needed for CO Division review, but one to two weeks may pass before the commissioner’s review takes place. A specific Certificate of Occupancy request form (PW-7) is submitted, specifying what you are requesting a TCO for. The form must identify which floors are included in the TCO request and which areas are excluded. Attached to that form is a letter that breaks down the status of the job and related jobs, as well as back-up documentation. The reviewer will consider the following:

  1. Status of Fire Alarm. The FDNY inspection of the Fire Alarm must occur before requesting the TCO. If you cannot provide a Letter of Approval, then an engineer’s affidavit is required, confirming that all defects cited by the FDNY during the inspection have been fixed. The affidavit has to be approved by the commissioner—ideally, prior to dropping off the request for TCO review. If the affidavit is accepted, fireguards will be required on-site.
  2. Fire Protection Plan (FPP). If the building is required by code to have an FPP, the reviewer will check to see it is approved.
  3. Tenant or Occupant Protection Plan. If you are only asking for a partial TCO and construction work will be ongoing, you will need to have a filed and approved plan showing how tenants can occupy the building safely while construction occurs on other floors.
  4. Builder’s Pavement Plan (BPP). Normally, the commissioner will not require that the BPP be signed off or even inspected. In cases of large buildings, the full sidewalk may not even need to be fully poured. Signed and sealed photos will need to be submitted, clearly showing that sidewalks in good condition exist at all entrances and exits. The photos must show a clear, safe path that leads from the exits to the street corner or to the next property.
  5. Application Signoffs. The commissioner may want to see certain applications signed off, such as emergency generator, Ansul systems, excavation, or foundation-related applications.
  6. Anything else the commissioner wants. As previously stated, the issuance of a TCO is purely discretionary. Be nice to the commissioner.

Note that in the case of alterations (as opposed to new buildings), unrelated open applications from prior years can derail a TCO request. Trying to close out these long-forgotten applications is often a monumental and expensive task. It is always in the building owner’s best interest to insist that all DOB applications, regardless of size or complexity, be signed off as soon as the construction work has been completed.

After having addressed all the above criteria, the TCO should get issued. Time to celebrate—briefly.  In the case of a new building, once the first TCO is issued, it will probably be time to add some additional floors. For guidance on that process, visit our archives and reread the May, June, and July installments of our TCO series, as well as this article.

If the TCO was issued for the entire building, 90 days will pass quickly. To ensure renewal of the TCO, you must demonstrate to the commissioner that progress is being made to close out open items and to sign off applications. If team members stay diligent and ensure that tasks get completed, then the time frame for Final CO should be foreseeable.