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Ask the Architect

Headaches with a rental home

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Q. I have a rental home that got a ticket for not being officially registered with my town. The building inspector showed up because my former tenant moved out but reported me.  I actually live next door while I am the caretaker for my elderly neighbor. I have to legalize my finished basement with an escape well, repair the back deck and legalize a shed.  The inspector gave me only 14 days to take care of this.  It turns out that I need to either remove part of the deck and takedown the shed, just to avoid a zoning variance.  I am ready to sell the property and just forget it all.  I really cannot afford all the fees and the cost to fix the problems.  If I just ignore the tickets and don’t get the permits what would be the worse-case scenario?  I’d rather let somebody else take care of this.

A.    First, take a deep breath and don’t panic.  It never helps to ignore appearance tickets and violation notices.  The problem is not going away, even though there are always ways to delay the inevitable.  If you do not at least attempt to respond to the appearance notice with a letter then a judgment against you will add up and, unfortunately, after facing a court-ordered fine, you will still be stuck spending the time and money to remedy any construction problems that don’t pass the code requirements.  You should first write a response letter to the ticket-writing inspector, explaining that you plan to address the situation but need a reasonable amount of time.  Next, interview architects whom you can trust to guide you, develop a plan of action and hire an architect who can discuss issues with the inspector.  There is a need for correct zoning information from your town, a recent survey that shows the house, deck and shed correctly, measured and drawn plans with code notes, zoning analysis, details of how the shed, deck and basement are constructed and application papers.  You can start the process by going to your town to review their records and getting the blank filing documents or have the architect try to do this.  Some municipalities require a “freedom of information” form that you, as owner are more likely to get done more easily, because sometimes there is a waiting period that you as owner may avoid.  All this is happening because many people get talked into not applying for permits or even getting plans made, either to avoid taxes (which does not always work) or to get the builder working sooner.  It is a necessary process and by trying to pass this on to the next owner, it presents more problems than it solves.  Some people will not even consider buying, others, if not told about your appearance tickets, may sue, when they find out that you knew about the problem but never told them.  Any way you decide to handle the situation, it is not going away.  Good luck!

© 2019 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.