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Ask the Architect

Is the permit valid, or not?


Q. My mother was admitted to a Florida nursing home and we have to sell her house. She has Alzheimer’s and is incapable of communicating. Our attorney had a title company prepare a report, and the title search showed that there’s an open permit for a porch, which my mom never had done for financial reasons, from about 10 years ago. When my brother and I, separately, called the building department and asked about it, we were told different things about canceling the unused permit. One person said to call a building inspector and have them cancel it, but then I heard that I have to get my mother to write a letter saying she didn’t do the porch, and have it notarized. She isn’t able to understand or sign her name, and never gave us power of attorney to take care of things for her before her illness. What can we do?

A. Isn’t it amazing how seemingly simple things can become so complicated? On one hand, your mother simply changed her mind and didn’t have the porch built, and on the other hand, the building department simply wants paperwork from you that seems simple enough to get but isn’t that easy.

I’m concerned that none of the children was given authority to act on your mother’s behalf, and you should seek an attorney to resolve the matters of her estate. As for the voiding of the permit, building departments are run by human beings with a heart, and you should write a letter so there’s a document on record explaining the situation. Sign it in front of a notary, and arrange to meet with a senior official before having more discussions with the building inspector.

The premises will still need inspecting, to verify the work was never done. To prove the home has no more issues with permits required, to satisfy the bank and the buyer, a new building department search sheet should be requested, showing no open permits. The biggest problem is time, and this isn’t a real situation. In most cases it’s a made-up bank or buyer timeline, because your closing is dependent on another closing, and so on and so on.

Because the search and a site review weren’t done early in the sales process, and because most people don’t really believe you need a permit to make changes to a home, great sleepless stress sets in and everyone is pointing fingers. It’s not unusual to get calls from people who need an ambulance architect — you know, the ones with the rotating light on the roof of their car and the siren blaring as they race to your home to start the process of satisfying the bank, their lawyers, etc. We see it all the time, and it’s avoidable if the seller calls an architect to check the home code compliance against recorded permit plans well before the sale has begun. 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.