Ask the Architect

We’re only adding to the backyard


Q. I started to build a backyard barbecue with a countertop and refrigerator. I also put in a patio and built a roof over the whole thing so we can have a shaded table. I don’t see why I need a permit, since it isn’t a “house addition.” I was told that if it’s free-standing I don’t need a permit, but a neighbor complained and I got a ticket. What do I do about the work I already did, and how do I get a permit before I have to go to court?

A. Ah, summertime. The sound of birds chirping, circular saws humming and neighbors grumbling. They do have a point. All structures need permits, even ones often referred to as “temporary.” It’s a frustrating dilemma that nobody seems anxious to prevent. People selling gazebos, sheds, decks, fences and pools conveniently forget to divulge about permits; it gets in the way of quicker sales. Your municipality sends newsletters with details about the latest park cleanup, but forgets to include reminders about permits or how to save a lot of aggravation and expense.

I’ve mentioned this to municipal leaders many times, but when they’re working the crowd at a community dinner or are unavailable to take a call, the timing never seems right to discuss. So instead, misconceptions and frustration, not to mention the lost productivity, wages, and fines to pay, continue, like a mill. Building officials get stuck with enforcement instead of prevention, making the process stressful for citizens and government employees alike.

I’ve witnessed this for over 35 years, and expect it will continue. You got a summons to appear before a judge who knows you need about six months to a year, depending on whether a zoning variance is required in addition to your permit. But the judge sternly gives you 30 days, causing even more stress, to unrealistically produce a permit that cannot be granted quickly, no matter how much you try. A barbecue, an outdoor kitchen and a shelter built over a patio all need permits. The patio may not need a permit in some municipalities, but most have regulations for permeable vs. non-permeable pavement in an effort to promote more ground recharge where rainwater drains back into the earth.

The issue, as with any permit, is supposed to be safety. A barbecue and refrigerator in an outdoor kitchen have gas and electric lines, and the roof structure is a potential hazard if it catches fire or becomes a missile when it gets picked up in high winds and is carried away, damaging property or potentially taking lives. I write this with hope that people might avoid your circumstances. Maybe someday, permits, and the time it takes to get one, won’t be thought of as a form of punishment. If you suspected you needed a permit, but wanted to avoid it, you still have to accept the process. Drawings, review, permitting and inspecting all take time.

© 2017 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.