Nadel & Ciarlo, P.C.

New York to crack down on illegal greenhouses

An enclosed greenhouse or sunroom can be a great selling point for a New York apartment or condo. But in many cases greenhouses are about to become a liability. In just over a year the New York City Department of Buildings will require many greenhouses to have a permit. Owners of noncompliant structures may be required to take them down.

Greenhouses began to flourish in New York in the 1960s, and the trend continued into the 1990s. Building owners would enclose an existing terrace or balcony under glass, and effectively increase the square footage of an apartment.

A loophole in the building code at the time did not include greenhouses in the calculation of floor area ratio, a factor in determining the permissible size of a building, as long as they were designated as temporary structures. The problem is, many of the original builders didn't intend them to be temporary.

A permanent greenhouse must be waterproof and meet certain construction standards in order to qualify for a permit from the Buildings Department. Many owners did not adhere to these requirements. In addition, many owners added heating and cooling systems, which are not permitted in temporary structures.

Beginning in 2015, the Buildings Department will begin enforcing a new rule requiring permits for greenhouses that have heating and cooling systems. According to a spokesperson for the department, it is possible that noncompliant structures will be ordered to be removed.

Permit issues are only the beginning. When a greenhouse leaks water into adjoining apartments or causes damage to the building, it can result in complex real estate litigation. Before the new rule comes into effect, building owners and co-op boards facing greenhouse construction issues may want to consider consulting a Manhattan real estate lawyer for guidance.

Source: New York Times, "Manhattan Apartments With Illegal Greenhouses," Joanne Kaufman, Oct. 17, 2014

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