Ask the Architect

More problems with permits


Q. I’m selling my house and found a buyer, then learned that my deck and garage have no permits. The buyer’s attorney is insisting this be taken care of before we can close, and I need to move quickly. I’m in contract in Florida. The buyers told me they want to take the garage down anyway, and put in a pool and deck, so shouldn’t I just be able to sell? Their attorney says the town already knows about the garage, but can’t we just make this go away?

A. Making things just “go away” would be convenient, but not realistic. Under the circumstances, the garage is on record, one way or another, and must be filed. If you didn’t file, when the buyer closed and started to apply for permits, the satellite pictures would be looked at and the plans examiner would question why the image shows a garage and deck that aren’t shown, either to remain or be removed, on the plans. The buyer’s attorney knows this, and is making both parties aware that you’re not going to just make it seem as if the garage was never there.

If you need to close right away, you may be able to arrange, between your attorneys and the buyer’s attorneys, an agreement that includes placing money in reserve, called escrow, and that you would receive a remainder of the held-back money when a permit to “maintain,” meaning to keep the garage and deck, is obtained. Just make certain that if you do manage to agree to escrow and close on the contract for sale, the buyers don’t just knock down the garage and start putting in a new pool and deck until the permits are issued for the garage and deck you sold them. Until the permit is obtained, a final inspection is done and a certificate of completion or compliance is issued, the whole matter is still open, and anything that changes that issue will really complicate the process.

I’ve often seen where the buyer, either unaware or not caring whether you lose your withheld money, starts right in on making all kinds of changes, often without a permit. When this happens, the process you were trying to finish grinds to a halt. The new buyer is then forced, either by warning or summons, to provide architectural plans and an application, in their name, a voiding of the application you made, inspections of the property, more fees and letters of explanation, and a lot of time is wasted. In such situations, there’s a lot of phone tag, accusations, possible forfeiting of money in the transaction — you get the idea. It all needs to be put into the agreement that, first, you’ll file for your “maintain” permits, the permits will be obtained, inspections will be done and a final certificate issued, then the buyer is free to begin making the proposed pool, fences and deck application. Good luck!

© 2015 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.