PARK SLOPE — He came into office on a landslide victory. He now oversees sweeping policy changes in education and housing. And he leads a massive workforce of 325,000 strong.
But even the most powerful man in New York City is no match for the bureaucracy of the Department of Buildings.
In the past five months, Mayor Bill de Blasio has twice applied for a DOB document that would verify that the century-old two-family Park Slope rowhouse that he and his wife own but rent out is being used legally. Both times the DOB rejected the de Blasios’ application because it lacked the proper paperwork.
The de Blasios seek what’s known as a "letter of no objection," which serves as a substitute for a certificate of occupancy for homes built prior to 1938. Before that year, certificates of occupancy weren’t issued.
When a property owner puts in an LNO application, the DOB will review the paperwork and, if it meets all requirements, will confirm that a property is being used the right way.
The Buildings Department wouldn’t specify the reason for the de Blasios’ rejection, other than to say that some documents were missing in both applications.
“The Department is working with the applicant and expects the request to be resubmitted along with the necessary documents,” DOB spokeswoman Kelly Magee said on Friday.
The fact that DOB officials twice denied their boss’s application is intriguing, but just as tantalizing is learning the reason why the de Blasios want the letter.
Obtaining an LNO is only necessary in certain cases. For instance, commercial property owners turning a retail store into a restaurant need one. But residential property owners generally request an LNO because they are either selling their home or refinancing and a third party wants official confirmation on its legal use.
“That’s the most common reason,” said Philip Santantonio, the owner of KM Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the city’s building and zoning codes. “A bank or a new buyer may be asking for it.”
A spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office told DNAinfo New York on Monday that the de Blasios weren’t selling the property, but wouldn’t provide a reason for seeking the LNO.
De Blasio, his wife, Chirlane McCray, and his mother, Maria Wilhelm, purchased the two-family property at 384 11th St. in 2004 for $612,500, property records show. The house, built around 1901, is a block away from the rowhouse that the couple also own and currently live in until they move to Gracie Mansion.
Wilhelm lived in the first floor of 384 11th Street until her death in 2007. Since then both floors have been rented out.
Records show that the de Blasios have only filed for two DOB work permits — in 2004 to make kitchen and bathroom alterations on the first floor, and in 2010 to replace a boiler in the cellar.
But on Dec. 31, 2013, the eve of de Blasio’s mayoral inauguration, he and his wife had an application put in for the LNO, records show. The application was denied, and a second one was submitted on May 6. It was also rejected for lack of documentation.
As part of an LNO application, the DOB requires materials that demonstrate the longstanding use of the property. Those materials include old property surveys, deeds, water bills, tax assessments or photographs, according to the DOB website.
Santantonio, who does not work for the de Blasios, said the DOB often denies applicants for lack of paperwork and noted that the agency’s complex rules and procedures can be a headache for a layperson.
“There is quite a bit of red tape in New York City,” said Santantonio, whose firm works with clients to expedite LNOs and other permits with the DOB. “We know how to work each of the avenues to obtain these LNOs.”
Steve Zirinsky, the co-chair of the building codes committee of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said even professionals sometimes find navigating DOB rules challenging.
“It's even difficult for us because the procedures keep changing all the time,” he said. “We're always having to learn a new language.”
Neither Santantonio nor Zirinsky could speculate why the de Blasios want the LNO.
John Hatheway, the architect who did work on the property for the de Blasios in 2004, was also stumped.
“I’m not sure why he would be getting it,” Hatheway said of the mayor. He noted that all the paperwork from the 2004 job is on file with the DOB and was done legally.
“Maybe he’s making sure all his I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, considering all the scrutiny he’s under as mayor,” Hatheway said.