Ask the Architect

A permit isn’t all there is to it


Q. We have put in for a permit and been rejected because we were told we were supposed to “maintain.” We’re not sure what that means, exactly, nor do we want to argue with anyone about it. It seems that the calls we’ve made aren’t being returned when we leave a message for people, and we’re a little lost about the whole matter. Some of our calls went straight to voicemail after we waited up to 50 minutes. Not very good service. Can you explain this process to us?

A. There are so many terms to understand, and it can be very confusing. The permit process is filled with unfamiliar descriptions, some with a legal origin and others that seem like jargon, but once you get the meaning, it may be more understandable why the words were chosen.

A “maintain” application is intended to put on record something that already exists but has not yet received a permit. In this case, the word maintain means to keep or preserve, as opposed to the idea of fixing up. A permit for new work is a “proposed” application, and when work has already been started but isn’t done (depending on whether it just got started or is nearly finished), the application may be described as either a maintain or proposed, but is usually also a maintain, because most people are further along in construction before they’re told that they need to apply for a permit. When a permit has been approved and picked up or received, any further changes to the project, such as when the construction work has been altered from the original plan before final inspections, must then have a “supplement” set of plans and explanation letter given back to the building department.

Many people assume that the plans are followed to the letter, when they most often are not, which presents problems from several perspectives. Problem One is that the building may not be code-compliant or may not perform as intended. Leaving out vital components can lead to structural or weather-resistant failure, for example. Then there’s the issue of relying on building department plans in the future when assuming they match the building. If room sizes, structure or zoning requirements are different than originally approved, the current owners may find that they are required to start the approval process all over again.

The process isn’t over when a permit is granted. At that point, you’re only in the middle of the process. Whether the permit is for something already built, a “maintain” permit or work being built, the electrical work, plumbing and then final building inspections still need to be arranged, and certifications need to be issued by the electrical inspector, the plumbing inspector and building inspector. When all inspections are done, a final certificate is issued, and it should be kept with important documents, along with the deed, previous closing documents and a survey.

© 2021 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.