In 1625, the Dutch West India Company established rules for the types and locations of houses that could be built by the colonists of New Amsterdam. This early attempt at meeting public safety and sanitation needs would evolve into one of the most comprehensive building and zoning codes in the United States. By 1674, extensive laws governing construction, fire prevention and sanitation were in place. In 1860, after a tenement fire took 20 lives, New York City's building laws were extensively revised and strengthened. At that time, the position of "Superintendent of Buildings" was created within the Fire Department to enforce the new structural safety laws. An independent "Buildings Department" in Manhattan was later founded in 1892. Each Borough President's office had an autonomous Superintendent of Buildings until 1936, when a citywide Department of Buildings was created.
One hundred years have passed since the five boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island formally united and became New York City. During that time, the Department has been structured and restructured to meet each era's challenges. The present incarnation of the agency was created in 1977, when the Housing and Development Administration was separated into two agencies -- the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
In the 1990’s, new programs were introduced to improve the construction and development process, most notably Professional Certification and Express Service. These initiatives made it easier to obtain building permits and improved the standard of living for the people who live and/or work in New York City. A special team of inspectors dedicated to investigating "quality of life" complaints (primarily zoning infractions) was established and computer technology allowed the Department to electronically share information with the public via BISweb.
In the past few years, our plumbing inspectors have begun using hand-held computers, increasing efficiency and revolutionizing the enforcement process. We have also identified process improvements throughout the agency. With an emphasis on streamlining and improving clarity and transparency, the agency has made strides as a public service provider.