Housing starts dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 698,000, compared with a upwardly revised figure for January of 706,000.
The rate of single-family housing starts in the month was 457,000, which was 9.9 percent below the 507,000 annual rate for January.
For multiple-unit housing starts, the annual rate in February came to 233,000.
Permits issued for privately owned housing units rose 5.1 percent month to month to an annual rate of 717,000. A year earlier in February, the annual rate stood at 534,000 permits. The new rate is a 34.3 percent climb over the rate 12 months prior.
Permits issued are an indicator of what direction construction starts might take one or two months down the road.
Completed housing projects in January were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 568,000, which is 6.2 percent above the revised figure for January of 535,000 units and 7 percent below February 2011, when 611,000 housing completions were posted.