Q. I get different information from every person I speak to, and I don’t know who to believe. I have a two-bedroom house that I want to make into three bedrooms, and have a possibility of either making an apartment or just a separate entrance for a future apartment. I’ve spoken to two architects and three contractors. The architects each told me a lot more needs to be done with permits, such as legalizing my fences and finished basement, and the contractors have said that isn’t required unless it comes up in the future, that my building department is only interested in what I want to build. I also have a one-car driveway that needs widening for one more car, and the last contractor said that I can put in a wider curb opening with no problem, no permit needed. The architects are really discouraging, telling me what can happen if I listen to the contractor. The contractors also said that architects, in general, “drag their feet” and try to do more to make more money. I expect you to disagree, but I read your column regularly and hope you can set this straight.
A. This column marks my 30th anniversary of writing weekly answers to questions from readers, and I must have received your question, in various forms, over a thousand times. As a consumer, you always need to keep things in perspective and to understand the motivations of the person you’re speaking to. If you really want a direct answer, you probably should have asked the authority you seem most concerned about — namely, the local building official who will be reviewing your application and property.
For example, the existing basement and fence issues are the tip of the iceberg. I’m certain that you’re concerned that if you ask, the problem of what requires a permit may grow, so you only want to ask people who have experience and an opinion, but who won’t be able to enforce. Unfortunately, in most cases, the officials usually only answer the questions you ask, possibly giving you a false sense that things are simpler, because the officials know that when the plans are submitted, they’ll have the chance to really concentrate on the shopping list of items that never got a permit, plus the things you are proposing.
Of course the contractors are going to tell you that the architects take too long and that most items don’t need a permit. They need to get started as soon as possible, with a large-percentage check in hand. Architects and building departments, while taking time to address all the issues, slow contractors down. Since you, as the property owner, bear the cost of and responsibility for the legalization of each aspect of your property, you should be concerned that each item is checked off that list, not that issues are open that may hold you up later. Good luck!
© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.