Ask the Architect

Continuing post-Sandy confusion

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Q. I’ve been reading about new homeowners who applied for solar panels and found out they unknowingly bought a home that needs to be raised. What a mess! However, I really can’t get a grasp on the scope of the problem and which homes are affected. I know I went by the book and obtained the proper permit after we were flooded during Sandy. Does this issue affect me or potential buyers of my home if I try to sell it? I’m not looking to move; I’m just trying to understand what this is all about. The press reports are confusing.

A. If the seller didn’t get a repair permit before selling, then the buyer who inherited the issue may have crossed the 50 percent value threshold when applying for the solar panel installation. The period of time between the sign-off for a storm repair permit and other proposed work, to avoid having the two costs combined, is one year. The repair permit was still required when the new home-buyer/owner applied for a solar panel permit, so I suspect that the municipality combined the repair value and the solar panel cost, forcing the house lift requirement.

The value of the repair is provided by the home insurance company in what is referred to as a “proof of loss” itemized statement. Except for uninsured homeowners, this statement must be submitted with each repair application. Your repair permit means you complied and are finished. Just after the storm, I urged elected officials to send notification explaining the specifics of this requirement. They have yet to do that, even though it’s 6½ years later and the permit is still required.

Officials claim that everyone in the flood zone was notified either by a sticker/letter left on their front door or by mail. Unfortunately, many people were not back in their homes for extended periods of time and say they never saw such a notice. The solution was simple: send out more letters and communicate clearly.

This issue isn’t going away. Permits, even after the fact, have been required all along. The reason I urged elected officials to do this was that people interviewing me and other licensed professionals didn’t like what we had to tell them, and often waited until they either heard what they wanted to from someone who didn’t tell them about this requirement, or got ambushed with an objection letter that made them angry now that their application was in the system. This policy has set people up to “shoot the messenger,” thinking we were just drumming up more business.

As I explained six years ago, this was going to be a rude awakening for homeowners who would then find ways to blame their attorneys, home inspectors, title companies and especially the municipality when they found out about this. In every part of our lives, when we stop communicating, trust and compliance break down. It’s time to communicate better.

© 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.