Ask the Architect

How did the neighbors get things done so quickly?


Q. We’re hoping to do an addition this summer, and are wondering how long it takes to get a permit. Our neighbors built a second floor and a 5-foot-high rear deck that covers most of their yard, and even though we never saw a permit, they did everything pretty quickly and are already done. Is it true that it can take a long time to do this? How did our neighbor do it so fast if it takes so long, and can we do what they did?

A. How does anything get done quickly? Your neighbors may have had a good set of plans that were carefully designed and then reviewed by professionals. Each step of the way, there are many problems that can be avoided, and my first thought isn’t whether your neighbors got away with something, but whether they made sure that things were planned to be compliant with all of the thousands of rules and regulations. Every day I see problems created by just not knowing that the people you trust to do the planning and work may not have covered all the issues.

We all make mistakes, forget something, try to simplify when simplifying can make things more complicated later. That’s why it’s so important to go through the design process and then the review process and then the bidding process. There are so many issues that need to be addressed that you really need to be sure that any condition you had no idea even existed is truly addressed.

Your neighbors seem to have potentially created problems for themselves if it’s true that they didn’t get a permit. The telltale sign, aside from not posting a permit while the work was being done, was that there’s no municipality nearby that allows you to cover your property the way you described, and for good reason. Just the potential for fire spread from property to property is a good reason to check to see that the deck isn’t too close to your property.

If you’re more interested in how they got through the process, which probably required a zoning variance for lot area occupied, you can check with your local building department. They would have been required to notify you if they exceeded the limits set by your municipality’s ordinances, which we all have to follow. Try not to think of it as telling on your neighbor. Look at it from the perspective that public safety is the first priority for everyone, and certain things, like fire spread or drainage issues, are going to affect more than just your neighbors. Some see building permits as an unnecessary money grab or a major intrusion into their lives. Some ordinances seem that way, because they’re very restrictive and hard to understand, but somewhere, somehow, someone thought the issue through and reasoned that we all have to share our neighborhoods. Good luck!

© 2018 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.