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Ask the Architect

No permit and no architect?

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Q. We want to get started this spring on an addition to our second floor. We’ve been trying to find out about how long it will take and how much it will cost. We’re not sure we need a permit, since we were told by one contractor that it isn’t going outside the edges of our house. He also said we might not need an architect if we don’t need a permit. Is that true? We suspect that there’s more to this.

A. There’s much more to this, and the direction from which you approach your project will determine how it will play out. For example, building departments had gone through a process of closing down, then reopening in a limited way to safely distance the staff, to some being completely open with various forms of limits, such as installing plastic separation walls or making people wait outside until they’re called to come in. Either way, the permit process, which is filled with many requirements and many pitfalls under normal circumstances, has slowed down even more.

People still have bills to pay and lives to get on with, so instead of hearing the blunt truth about getting approvals after a lengthy process filled with lots of requirements and many turn-backs, you have been told false information in order to circumvent the whole painful process. Since I constantly receive calls asking if I can drop everything and rescue the next victim of this fraud, I know it’s very real. Add to that the people who’ve just learned that their property is missing legal papers for parts of their newly purchased home, which should have been taken care of before the real estate closing, and it makes for a real bottleneck of problems, especially because we generally can’t move forward with the work they really wanted done without also taking care of the illegal items, often done incorrectly, not to code.
If anyone had ever told me, when I was sitting in architecture school, starry-eyed with all that enthusiasm and promise of a bright future working on skyscrapers, that if I wanted to do work in the suburbs and watch my kids, and now grandkids, grow up, I would end up like a lifeguard at a pool where most of the swimmers are calling to be rescued, I might have kept my summer job in construction. Instead I dived in to solve problems and help me, my clients and the contractors all figure out how to keep all of our heads above water.
Since costs have increased three- and four-fold over the past year because of material price increases, I wonder why people feel so pressured to get the most important investment they will ever make rushed and emotionally painful, but they do. The whole process takes at least a year, including three to four months of planning (including measuring, design and construction drawings with a pile of code requirements), construction estimating, permit plan review and permit issuance.

© 2021 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.