An Invalid Permit Cannot Confer Vested Rights

Reiterating that “vested rights cannot be acquired in reliance upon an invalid permit” the Appellate Division of the First Department upheld a determination of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (“BSA”) in the case In re GRA, LLC v. Srinivasan.

The petitioner owned property in the R6 district which initially permitted buildings of up to 12 stories. The neighborhood consists of mostly one and two family homes. As a result of petitioners proposed project the neighbors lobbied for a rezoning to prohibit such construction. As the court noted “a race ensued” to see whether petitioner could complete enough of the building to obtain vested rights under the existing zoning before the rezoning took effect. Initially it appeared the petitioner had won the race as it was able to complete enough of the foundation to obtain a vested right to complete the building under the old zoning.

However apparently in an effort to save time and win the race petitioner used a “Sanborn Map” stamped by his architect as accurate, as opposed to a survey as required by regulations. It turned out the map was inaccurate and as a result the foundation was placed closer to the property line than is permitted under the regulations. When the petitioner produced an actual survey this error was confirmed. The department of buildings therefore rejected the claim by petitioner of vested rights to complete the building under the old zoning based upon percentage of completion of the structure before the new zoning went into effect.

Thereafter the BSA denied the petitioner’s appeal. In upholding the BSA the court found that the department of buildings and BSA had acted properly and were not being arbitrary. It was noted they were even willing to accept the Sanborn Map, which did not comply with the regulation requiring a survey, if it could be demonstrated that the information in the Sanborn Map was in fact accurate. It was only after the Sanborn Map was demonstrated, by an actual survey, to be in accurate that the department of buildings refused to acknowledge any vested rights.

The BSA noted that it was not the filing of the Sanborn Map, instead of a survey, that was critical to the decision but “the fact that the architect filed for an erroneous street wall setback” albeit based upon the Sanborn Map. Thus, it was ultimately the setback error, not the use of the Sanborn Map, which invalidated the permit and precluded a claim of vested rights. In responding to a vigorous dissent the court stated equitable principles require noting “that Owner created the very condition leading to revocation of the permit by attesting to a Sanborn Map as accurate without verifying whether that assertion was true.”