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Ask the Architect

‘So much for trying to do the right thing’

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Q. We were told to file a permit to rent our house next door, which an inspector came and looked at and said it was a “simple” permit. We had to have house plans made, and we filed them, paid their fee and waited six months, because of the pandemic. Now we got a response that’s three pages long with a ton of items. The letter is titled “Omissions Letter,” but we really think we didn’t leave anything out.

The letter includes making separate applications (with more fees) for the washing machine, a boiler, our fences, planters that hold back the earth (since our neighbor’s yard behind is four feet higher than ours), a patio and the back four feet of our garage, which have all been there for at least 49 years. Is this typical? We wish we had never started this permit. So much for trying to do the right thing! They want calculations for our boiler heat output versus air intake, which is confusing enough, but why do they want it from the architect when our plumber did the work and even got a permit already? This is really upsetting and confusing.

A. Your northern Nassau County town has the particular reputation for this behavior. Many architects won’t even do work there, for the simple reason that they punish honesty instead of promoting ways to improve public safety.

The implication of “omissions” at the top of the notice is a legally irresponsible implication that accuses you and your architect of purposely or unprofessionally leaving out important facts, as if you or your architect would have imagined filing for a washing machine or patio. A washing machine application would have been part of a plumbing application anywhere else. Most communities have no such requirement for the architect, and the homeowner expects that a house with a washing machine is as common as a car with four wheels.

The inspector who came to your house was probably trying to help you with safety items, looking for the smoke detectors, escape windows and handrails, but the letter was composed by a plans examiner, who doesn’t come to the house but instead goes through the files that you can’t see because of the pandemic. The examiner went looking for anything and everything to reveal that there is much more they previously didn’t enforce. In this age of computers, building departments have a better way to keep records about your home, and they’re trying to update, since illegal additions and amenities like fences, retaining walls, pools and decks — and washing machines, I guess — slipped past their radar over the years.

They also assume that plans are made just by pushing a few keyboard buttons, so why not ask for more than they ever did before? Unfortunately, the method of punishing with court hearings, fines and dismantling work isn’t the only way they could handle this. It’s just the way your North Shore town chooses to do it. 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.