New York City has some pretty amazing resources online for learning about your building.
Your first stop should always be the Department of Buildings’ Building Information System (BIS).
To use the DOB BIS website select your “Borough”, and enter your “House No” and “Street” in the first line of the Building Information Search – Search by Property section. This will reveal all the official information on file for your building with the DOB including any Certificates of Occupancy, violations, building permits, status of plans filed and whether or not your building is registered as an IMD.
“Is my building a registered IMD?” There are three ways to answer this. 1) you should have received a copy in the mail of your landlords Registration Application which lists the units and protected occupants. 2) You can use the DOB BIS search described above to see if your building is listed with the DOB. If so, on your building’s main page you will see a section labeled “Loft Law“. If your building is not registered (or is still pending coverage) this will say “No”. If your building is registered it will say “Yes” and have a string of numbers next to that, that is the IMD docket # for your building. You can use that number when contacting the Loft Board or DOB for more information. 3) You can try calling the Loft Board, give them your building address and ask if it’s a registered IMD. If you can’t reach them by phone, or if you need more information than they can give over the phone, you can FOIL their records. Download this FOIL Request Form and submit it by FAX to request an appointment to see (and make copies of) all the records on file with the Loft Board for your building. Someone from the Loft Board will contact you by phone in a week or so to schedule an appointment at their office. The Loft Board will charge a nominal fee for any copies you might request. In those records you’ll discover which units are registered and who the protected occupant is listed as for each one.
“Is my unit registered? Who is the registered protected occupant?” Other than having a copy of the landlord’s Registration Application (as described above #1) the only way to find out if your unit is registered, and who the registered protected occupant is, is by contacting the Loft Board, either by phone or by FOIL (see #3).
Next, to find out about your building as a property, check out ACRIS: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/jump/acris.shtml
There you can see deeds, mortgages, records of changes to the lot and easements, etc. You will need the Block and Lot numbers from BIS, because this site doesn’t understand street addresses.
(You will need Java to see the documents. Hint: this site was apparently designed for use at their office, so it has weird stuff about printing and paying for prints. To download a PDF of your document, select “Print Document”, then type the page numbers, “Add to Print Cart and go to Checkout”, “Submit Order & Print Result Summary”. The document opens in a frame. Now you can right click the document to open it in Adobe Reader. Phew!)
These provide maps of the city showing zoning and usage, and you can also click on properties to find out more detailed information.
If your building was built before 1938, it may not have a C of O at all. If you have a question about whether your building was residential before then, and you don’t find anything in BIS, you may want to look at the earlier system of “I-Cards”.
Go to the HPD website: http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/home/home.shtml
Enter your address at the bottom of the right column, then click on “I-Card Images” at the bottom of the left column. If there are any images, they can take a long time to come up. If your building was a legal residence prior to when the city started issuing Certificates of Occupancy and doesn’t have a C of O now, you’ll want to talk with a lawyer about whether you’re eligible. It’s just one of those many places where things get complicated.
In building your case, or just out of curiosity, you may want to go even further back. If you go to the DOB’s borough office you can look through the Block and Lot File to look at forms, plans and blueprints going back into the 1800’s.
Find the DOB office for your borough here: http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/gbolwebsite/16.html
The Municipal Archives also have tax photos from around 1940 and in the mid-80’s: http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/html/photos/photos.shtml