WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.
Ask the Architect

An illegal second floor?


Q. I am selling my house and found out that my second floor is not legal because the previous owner never got a permit and also never got anything for the breakfast room or deck. We got a shed and pool permit 10 years ago and nobody said a word about the house. Now that we need the permit(s) we also learned we need a variance and it could take five months. Our attorney agreed to four months with escrow so we can close on the house. I have a bad feeling that our attorney made a bad deal with the other attorney because we will lose $10,000 if everything isn’t signed off in four months. Was this a bad idea? Do you think this is reasonable?

A.    No, and you may lose the money because of what your attorneys “think” should happen. They should have either checked with the different departments that review permits, namely your specific building department and the zoning board, added a cushion for the real time it takes when the process is regularly delayed or asked an experienced architect or engineer who is handling the certification of your drawings. While many municipalities may have slightly fewer applications on their zoning hearing calendars, your address shows that you live in a larger jurisdiction that is known to have an average of three to four months just for the time to get to the public zoning hearing plus a month (at least) before, just for the building permit application to get the initial review process before sending to the zoning board, then two to three months (average) to get the plan review after the hearing, if your case is approved. In between, if you rush the professional who is preparing your custom-measured and code-noted plans, so that even one important detail, code note or other item is still necessary to be added to the plans to satisfy the plan-reviewer, then you are further delayed. You may think this is a “standard” kind of process and just like the attorneys did, you may naively assume it “should” take less time, but this is not like the travel app Priceline. You do not get to “name your own amount” of time it should take. Your best bet is to communicate quickly (as I did with you because you gave me your phone number) to head this agreement before closing. The random time you were given is not enough and the architect you hired is being set up by the attorneys to let you down. The attorneys must understand that there are many people involved in the permit process and there are several steps necessary to go through before you receive the final certificate for the old construction. The building must be measured, plans developed, code requirements that are probably not met need to be researched and discussed to determine how to correct, such as window openings that do not meet emergency exit requirements, etc. The list is very long…Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.