Ask the Architect

A kitchen leads to an attic


Q. Our house is large and very old, with a third story that was partially finished before purchase. We finished the rest of the attic and put in a few bedrooms and a bath. Recently we hired an architect to enlarge our kitchen into our backyard and make a nice entrance to a porch and patio with a fireplace. The architect made the plans, after several meetings, changes, etc., and then put them into our building department to pull a permit. We next got a notice that our attic is in violation, and we had to either take out all the finishes and bathroom or file plans to get a state permit.
None of this has anything to do with the kitchen or patio, which we hoped to have by summer. We suspect our architect made this much more complicated for us, but now we can’t undo what he did. Naturally, he gets more money to do more plans and permits, which we also think is rather sneaky and uncalled for. Can we report the architect for doing this to us, and can we pull back the permit so we can make all this go away and just do our kitchen?

A. So you believe everyone is out to get you, including your architect, and you have the right to “pull back” your permit, ignoring the conditions of your house. It doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, even though most local governments know that most homes have violations, the governments choose not to prosecute every homeowner, since it would be bad for the business of getting re-elected, so code violations go on without a word until you make the first move, which you did, by coming to the attention of the building officials whose job is public safety.
Every day of the week, people ask if we can’t just look the other way. We absolutely can look the other way, but eventually who will believe us for lying or not doing our job? The issues of your home easily come up by simply bringing up satellite images, on-line accessible documents, including tax department records, showing what is in the home and whether the third floor was finished. Your building official doesn’t need the architect or you to figure out the truth about the illegalities in your home. When your architect shows the actual conditions, which he is required to do, including walls removed, walls finished in rooms that the building department has no previous record of, or other changes, he’s only doing his job. Imagine the scrutiny an architect would receive if a building official walked in to check the conditions and discovered that you and the architect had lied.
I have stated in this column, many times, the statistic that only five people out of 100 will survive a fire on the third floor. Ninety-five people will die of smoke inhalation or burns. So do the right thing and follow through, whichever way you choose. I’m pulling for you.

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.