So we'll need permits?


Q. We just moved into our first house. We knew before we bought it that we wanted several changes, started opening walls with family/friends and realized it was a bigger job than we thought. My dad wants to strip the “popcorn” ceiling and repaint it, but the ceiling underneath looks like rough brown paper, and paint is just soaking in. Should we let my dad spackle the whole ceiling? Second, the contractor told us that because the work is all inside, we won’t need a permit, and that the deck we want won’t be attached to the house and won’t need a permit, either. What do you think?

A. Ha! You got to hear one of many fallacies told to homeowners every day. It just happened to be your day. Of course the contractor says this. Why would he care if you get a violation on your home? He (or she) knows that the system only penalizes the homeowner, not the person who caries out the crime, so they’re free to keep telling people this story to get started right away, and get paid right away.

There are lots of lies told to homeowners, and what it does, if you’re caught doing work without a permit, is stop the job, immediately, leaving you hanging with a mess until plans and permits are obtained and your summons is resolved in court, which you’ll have to take time off from work for. You’ll fight for parking, have your belongings searched, and stand in a corridor overhearing attorneys telling their clients how to plead. Add to that the abuse of being treated like a criminal by a judge who will speak to you harshly and doesn’t really want to hear your tale of woe, and your municipality’s attorney, who will tell you where to sit, when to speak, and go along with the bad treatment.

All this time, the contractor is sitting with your down payment, asking when he can finish and pressuring you that he has other jobs to get to. So you hire an architect who knows the drill but has several other preventable emergencies to work on, and you sit with your mess. The architect reviews, measures, gets plans together, but then you wait for building plans review at your building department, where they have stacks of files ahead of your “emergency.” Unless it’s a true emergency, you wait, and wait.

Eventually, permit in hand, you call the contractor, who used your down payment for his trip to Hawaii, which he’ll love to tell you about after you give him more money to start the job up again. You’ll wonder if you got the right guy, but too late. Your popcorn ceiling should be stripped, and a ¼-inch-thick gypsum board screw-attached for a uniform surface to tape, spackle and paint. It’s much easier and better looking than trying to skim coat plaster an entire ceiling. Good luck!

©2014 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.