Updated: Sep 13, 2020
As we improve our homes with extensions and home offices in this "new normal" we have observed a rise in calls regarding building permits and certificate of occupancy. Apparently in some areas you need a building permit if you open up an interior wall within your house.
Building permits and certificates of occupancy are a manifestation of the unique municipal land use laws that govern the towns, villages and the boroughs we live in. These laws dictate what we can and what we can't do regarding any specific parcel. Whether a parcel is considered residential or business, each lots zoning designation has assigned to it specific codified restrictions and rules that must be followed and enforced. Depending on the area, these rules could seem confusing, restrictive and intrusive into how a business or homeowner enjoys their piece of property. Regulations from different jurisdictions can possibly influence where you can place your fences, which tree you can or cannot cut down, whether you need an escape hatch for your basement and others.
In our profession we come across complaints regarding the inconsistency and randomness on a daily basis. Other times we have been at the point of blame and accusation. "How come you did not know we needed this?", they say. However, no matter what the complaint, especially even when we empathize with the client, we like to support the case that these rules are set for the safety of the public at large. They are born from necessity. An example of these is having fencing installed around the backyard of a property that has a pool.
The requirements, to close building permits and grant certificate of occupancy, are riddled with pitfalls that can delay your project or the sale or purchase of a home. Even though surveyors, civil engineers, appraisers and builders have some familiarity with these matters, this is not their expertise. For every client, we like to suggest professional permitting offices. It is not required for any property owner to engage their services but their familiarity and expertise saves time and money and makes a project run a little smoother. They know the local municipal codes and they can identify and avoid potential problems regarding town rules and regulations. Although this is an added cost to the owner, it is a much better option that trying to close out permits and obtaining a certificate of occupancy by yourself. Have you ever tried it? If not, you should the next time you get a letter of violation from the town office. The usual arduous process is further delayed by the simple fact that local government employees are working remotely and access to municipal records is limited at best.