Ask the Architect

Is the county picking on us?

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Q. We found a notice stuck to our front door with a code violation about our pool and tall fence, and we don’t understand. Our pool was there when we bought the house. The newer fence replaced the old one from the old owner. We think the county is picking on us. All of our neighbors have pools, fences and other things with no permits. Why does the county single us out? It’s unfair. Our fence is safe. You’d need a stepladder to get over it. Nobody could get into our yard, so what gives?

A. I’m sometimes sad when I think that I only have a stepladder, since I’ve never met my real one. I’ve written this column for nearly 29 years, with the hope of filling a serious communication gap, trying to explain everything from technical solutions to procedures, and dealing with government codes and regulations. In all that time, while many codes, rules and regulations have changed, one thing never has: Your county doesn’t have a thing to do with the issues you’re dealing with.

You live in one of more than 70 municipalities that have their own rules. The county doesn’t do building inspections, issue permits, or review home construction, pools, decks, sheds or fences. Your city, town or village, depending on its status of incorporation, reviews your compliance with state codes and its specific interpretation of those codes. In addition, your local incorporated community has zoning rules that determine how much property you can cover and where you can locate structures such as houses, decks, sheds, fences and pools. So, first thing, the county isn’t picking on you.

It will tax-assess anything you have on your property, and, it seems, never communicate or ask whether what you have on your property even has a permit. If you build an illegal 30-story building or a plutonium plant, you’ll be taxed appropriately (or inappropriately, depending on whether you agree with the amount of taxation) but never asked whether what they are taxing is even legal. Since it also seems that inspectors do not constantly go door to door checking to see what has a permit and what doesn’t, you probably were singled out because of a safety issue, because pools without permits are a liability to you and, believe it or not, your municipality. Creative attorneys and insurance companies will look to draw local government into a claim for an accident because, they may say, the local authority did not properly enforce their law.

Just because you purchased a property and its amenities (pool and fence), there should never be an assumption, before closing the contract, that everything is legal. That burden is yours. When you remove a permitted structure to do direct replacement, you must also understand that even if for a few seconds there is no structure, a new permit is necessary, hassle or not. That’s what gives.

© 2018 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.