Ask the Architect

Nailing down the permits


Q. We completely rebuilt in 1996, and are ready to retire and sell. Our real estate agent told us they checked our permit records and it was never signed off. Although it’s a long story, our first contractor went to jail and destroyed our original permit papers. The second contractor never got a plumbing permit or electrical sign-offs, even though they had people do the work. Is this going to be a big problem to get everything signed off, because we want to sell within the year to take advantage of the market right now? What can you advise?

A. Sounds like you went through a lot. Most people tell me they could write a book about their experience. You need to see your building department records and get copies of the signed and sealed plans. Many municipalities keep records either in paper form, which you may have to pay for copies of, or microfilm or computer files.
Then speak with your inspector to find out what they think needs to be done. Most will be very helpful, and allow for the process to continue, asking you to hire a plumber to get a permit, which involves your notarized signature so you know it’s being done. In way too many cases, the plumber or contractor says it was done when it really wasn’t, so most municipalities require the owner’s signature on permit applications so the building department and owner are aware that the process is being done and is not false.
The plumber needs to see your bathrooms, kitchen, heating equipment and any other plumbing to be sure it meets the plumbing code (and building code). The same process must be done with an electrician, but most building departments ask for a certification from a private agency, not your electrician, since most building departments don’t have an electrical inspector. The reason for this is that one of the two leading causes of fire is electrical (the other being use of the kitchen) so your local government wants nothing to do with the liability for fire safety.
You’ll find that almost everyone in this process wants to avoid responsibility as much as possible. You may have to either call for an inspection agency yourself or, if you suspect that there could be questionable electrical work, hire a licensed electrician to inspect and correct before hiring an agency to detect, if you elect. The private agency charges a few hundred dollars, usually, depending on the number of rooms and outdoor items, like air conditioning condensers, pool equipment and landscape lights, which must also be inspected. After all this is done, you may be able to get a final inspection and a sign-off and certificate from your building department, unless … your building department makes you get plans and a new survey redrawn and updated to the most recent code, which is complicated, time-consuming and expensive — in the thousands of dollars — before you can get a final inspection. Allow plenty of time.

© 2023 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.