Representing first-time homebuyers who had been issued a stop work order and four summonses from the Department of Buildings (“DOB”), Dunnington recently won dismissal of “Class 1” hazardous violations for doing work without a permit, a reduction of thousands of dollars in fines and an order permitting the renovations to proceed. Had the violations been sustained, the clients faced tens of thousands of dollars in additional penalties and even more in construction costs. Dunnington’s swift victory permits the homebuyers to promptly renovate and occupy their new home, avoiding both cost and delay.
New York City businesses and property owners regularly receive summonses from City agencies (including the DOB, Department of Sanitation, Fire Department and others) for many reasons. Working without a permit, failing to maintain property and other violations of the City Administrative Code are common sources of violations. New York City businesses may also receive violations for engaging in unfair business practices, deceptive advertising, litter, failing to provide vacation or sick time, discrimination, or failing to comply with a myriad of City rules and regulations. Administrative penalties can disrupt business, halt construction, and result in significant fines.
In this case, to succeed at trial, we did three things. First, to establish our clients’ good faith, we helped them immediately remedy a “Class 1” dangerous condition (a lack of fire stopping). A delay would have been costly in terms of fines and potential legal costs. Second, we investigated DOB property records for the clients’ condominium and discovered an open permit issued to the prior owner. We also obtained a structural engineer’s expert report showing that no dangerous structural condition existed to rebut the DOB’s assertion. Third, we prepared the clients for an administrative trial.
The New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (“OATH”) is the forum for most trials for alleged violations of the City’s Administrative rules and laws. At trial, we demonstrated through DOB records and the clients’ testimony that a prior owner commenced work based on the prior permit and that our clients did not remove fire stopping. Using the engineering report we proved that no structural deficiency existed. Through the clients’ testimony, contractor invoices and DOB records we proved immediate correction of a hazardous condition resulting in the removal of the stop work order.
The administrative law judge credited our client’s testimony that no structural work was done by them, that the prior owner had been the one who removed fire stopping and — most importantly — that the clients immediately remedied the situation, and reduced more than $10,000 in potential fines to less than $1,000. Significantly, this ruling also permitted our clients to promptly obtain DOB construction permits in order to complete their renovations.
New York City property owners and businesses should address administrative summonses proactively. By acting swiftly, they can save time and money.
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