Frequently Asked Questions - Zoning Help Desk

You can determine the zoning designation of your property quickly and easily by using our online tool, ZoLa (Zoning and Land Use Application). You can look up all relevant zoning information by providing the address or block and lot number of the property in question.

Once you’ve found your property using ZoLA, click on the hyperlink for your zoning designation. This will take you to an overview describing the types of buildings you can construct in your zoning district.

If your property has both an R designation and a C1 or C2 designation, then your property is in what is known as a “commercial overlay.” This means you can build a residential building with ground-floor commercial (or in some cases two floors of commercial). Other types of combinations are often caused when a property crosses a zoning district boundary. Special regulations in PDF Document Article VII, Chapter 7 explain how to determine what height, setback, floor area, and use regulations apply to your property.

Generally, no. Any new building permit filed after a zoning change must comply with the zoning regulations that are in place at the time. However, after a zoning change, any legally-built existing building is considered “grandfathered” and is afforded special rights to repair and rebuild in the event of damage or destruction. Please see PDF Document Article V of the Zoning Resolution for more information on damage and destruction of existing grandfathered (called “non-complying” and “non-conforming”) buildings.

Variances from the existing zoning are possible. Applications for a variance are considered by the City’s Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA). Property owners seeking a variance must demonstrate that there are “practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships” they face in meeting the zoning regulations. See PDF Document Article VII, Chapter 2 of the Zoning Resolution for regulations applying to variances, or contact the BSA to learn more.

As-of-right development complies with the rules found in the Zoning Resolution and does not require any review from the Department of City Planning. The Department of Buildings reviews the building plans to determine compliance with the Zoning Resolution and the Building Code and issues building permits accordingly.

The FAR determines how much floor area you can have in your building relative to the size of your lot. Please note that this is not always equivalent to the number of stories you can build. FAR can be utilized on a site in a number of different ways. You can learn by visiting DCP Glossary.

The number of dwelling units allowed on any given lot is controlled by zoning. (Other regulations, such as the NYC Construction Code and NYS Multiple Dwelling Law, also control the size and shape of dwelling units.) The method of calculating the maximum number of units is explained in PDF Document Section 23-22 of the Zoning Resolution.

Yes. If in building a residential building in an R1 through R5 district, you will have to provide two front yards, one on each street. (In an R1-2 district, one front yard must be 20 feet; the other 15. In an R3 district, one front yard must be at least 10 feet.) For a rectangular lot, the other two yards will be considered side yards (not rear yards), one of which must be at least 20 feet deep. For other types of buildings, contact the Zoning Help Desk for more information.

Yes. If located in a required side or rear yard, then the structure must not exceed 10 feet in height. Garages and sheds are not permitted in front yards. If located anywhere else on your property, then it must comply with the underlying height, setback, and floor area requirements of your district.

The Building Code regulates the height of fences. Generally, in residence districts, the maximum height of a fence constructed along a front lot line is four feet above ground level. The maximum height of a fence along the side or rear lot line is six feet. In most instances, fences are considered permitted obstructions.

There are no zoning requirements about the material or orientation of a fence.

If you are located in a Residence district, you may be able to convert the ground floor of your building to a “community facility” – this could include a wide range of non-profit uses such as schools or houses of worship, as well as medical-related tenants such as doctor’s or dentist’s offices. (See PDF Document Section 22-00) However, retail or other commercial tenants are only permitted in Commercial Districts.

Yes, but limitations apply. PDF Document Section 12-10 of the Zoning Resolution defines “home occupations” and limits them to 25% of the size of home, or 500 square feet, whichever is less. Home-based businesses may only sell goods produced on site, and must not impact the character of the residential area. Additionally, the following business are not permitted as home occupations: advertising or public relations agencies, barber shops, beauty parlors, animal stables or kennels, electrolysis offices, interior decorators’ offices or workshops, ophthalmic dispensing, pharmacies, real estate or insurance offices, stockbrokers’ offices, or veterinarian’s offices.

No. All new buildings and changes to existing buildings must abide by the zoning regulations that are currently in place, even if many nearby buildings predate the zoning change, and even if the zoning change was only made recently.

Find your property using our online database ZoLa. Then, under ”Zoning and Land Use” turn on “Zoning Map Amendments”. Areas which have been rezoned since 2002 will be highlighted; click on the highlighted area for more specific information.

Zoning district changes can be proposed by private citizens, city agencies, or elected officials. The proposed changes need to make land use sense in the context of surrounding uses and existing zoning designations. Zoning changes go through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP – link to ULURP chart). This process includes review by and recommendations from the affected community board(s) and the Borough President. The City Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council decide whether to approve the zoning change. The community boards and the City Planning Commission are required to hold public hearings, and the Borough President and the City Council have the option to do so.

Some land use actions are not permitted as-of-right and require review by the City Planning Commission. These actions are categorized as Special Permits or Authorizations. Some more limited special permits are reviewed by another agency, the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Check ZoLa to see if your property is in a residence, commercial or manufacturing district. To determine what signs are allowed in your zoning district, and the proper location and size of signs and if they can be illuminated or flashing, refer to the following sections of the Zoning Resolution in:

Residence Districts: PDF Document 22-30
Commercial Districts: PDF Document 32-60
Manufacturing Districts: PDF Document 42-50

For information on special permits issued by the City Planning Commission since 1977, visit our online Land Use and CEQR Application Tracking System (LUCATS). If a building was constructed prior to 1977 and may have received a special permit prior to this date, contact Nicole Vargas at the Zoning Division at (212) 720-3325.

A list of City Planning Commission reports from 1938 to the present is also available in a database, searchable by fields including community district, vote date and ULURP number.

An E-designation on a property means that the property was the subject of a zoning action or zoning change and that environmental requirements related to possible impacts from air, noise or hazardous materials are associated with the property. These potential environmental conditions would need to be addressed before the property could be redeveloped under the new zoning. For more information, visit our E-Designation ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page.

Zoning Verifications are provided by City Planning for a fee of $110.
Please send a request for a zoning verification letter by mail to:

NYC Dept. of City Planning
ATTN: Nicole Vargas
120 Broadway, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10271

A $110 check made out to NYC Dept. of City Planning must be included. Requests must include the address, plus the borough, block and lot information.

The Department of City Planning accepts checks, money orders and credit cards for application fees. We accept Visa, Master Card, American Express and Discover. If paying with a check or money order, please make it payable to the City of New York for the total amount of the required fees in order to be considered complete. You can pay either in person at our offices at 120 Broadway, over the phone or by fax.

Please allow 10 business days from the time the fee submission is received for the issuance of the zoning verification letter.

Please contact the DCP FOIL officer, Wendy Niles, at (212) 720-3208.

Please contact Yvette Gruel in DCP’s Land Use Review division, at (212) 720-3370.

This is a simple calculation requiring you to deduct the amount of floor area your existing building contains from the maximum allowable floor area permitted in your district. (As an example, on a 10,000 square foot property, in a district allowing 4.0 FAR, the maximum floor area permitted would be 40,000 square feet. If an existing building on this property contained 15,000 square feet, then 25,000 square feet would be able to be transferred.) Please note that square footages of existing buildings listed in ZoLA are approximations. An architect can assist you with calculating the exact amount of floor area contained in your building.

The transfer of development rights (commonly known as selling “air rights”) is recorded through the filing of a declaration with the City Register. You can look up the property records, including such declarations, for a property by visiting the Department of Finance’s online database, ACRIS.

In general, the Zoning Division does not provide written explanations or interpretations of zoning provisions, and does not review, nor offer recommendations on, specific development proposals. In instances where the text is vague or deficient, questions can be resolved through a determination by the Department’s Zoning Interpretations Group. Please contact the Zoning Help Desk with requests for interpretation.

This information is available on ZoLa under the “ Historic Districts” option in “ Supporting Zoning Layers”. Any further information regarding landmarks and historic districts can be found at the Landmarks Preservation Commission at (212) 669-7700.

To determine if you able to apply for a sidewalk café permit, visit ZoLa and click on “Sidewalk Cafes” under “Supporting Zoning Layers”. If you need further assistance, call the Zoning Help Desk at (212) 720-3291. To obtain an actual permit, you will need to contact the Department of Consumer Affairs at (212) 504-4115.

Community facilities are allowed in most Residence and Commercial districts as-of-right, and by special permit in others. Determine the specific zoning district of your block by visiting ZoLa. Once you know your specific zoning district, you can find the use regulations for Residence Districts in Section 22-10, Commercial Districts in section 32-10, and Manufacturing Districts in Section PDF Document 42-10.

All complaints, including noise complaints, should be directed to 311

The Department of City Planning does not enforce zoning. Contact the Department of Buildings.

Cars are not permitted to park on the sidewalk at any time. Contact the Department of Transportation if you’d like to make a complaint.

The installation of new curb cuts will require that the locations comply with zoning regulations. Curb cut regulations in Residence districts can vary, while generally curb cuts are permitted in Commercial and Manufacturing Districts provided they are not located within 50 feet of an intersection. Contact the Zoning Help Desk for assistance with zoning requirements for new curb cuts. For more information on how to obtain the necessary permits, click here.

Frequently, this is not a zoning issue. The common situation is that two neighbors entered into an informal agreement to share a driveway between their two properties. Unless this agreement was recorded in the deed to your property by designating an easement, your neighbor has a right to erect a fence on their property line. You can contact an attorney to review the deed, or, if you still suspect the fence is illegal, you can contact the Department of Buildings to request an inspector’s visit.

If your question is not answered in the FAQ, contact the Zoning Help Desk.