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Ask the Architect

‘Are we living in a police state?’

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Q. I’m so confused. I keep seeing programs on TV where it looks much simpler and the cost is so much lower than I’m getting estimates for. I also notice that there are no building inspectors, architects or permits. Why is this? Are we living in a police state? What is the real situation? I need to save time and money.

A. I’ve noticed, over the years, the difference between the generation that trusted architects and engineers to advise them and the Information Age clients, who get their answers from TV shows and cellphones, even if the media information is staged, exaggerated and inaccurate. It really all comes down to money, and it always has. Unless consumers understands that they know only a tiny amount of the full equation, they feel emboldened by the misinformation being fed by inexperienced or uneducated people offering opinions without substance.

You need to realize that the shows you see on TV are paid for and starred in by people who aren’t licensed professionals, and even when they’re pouring their heart into how nice-looking they can make the home or how much they can get for their investment, they’re often creating issues that would not pass in your state or climate region. What I experience, weekly, are people who are given wrong advice by non-professionals who have generally never experienced having to put their name on the project, legally, and haven’t had to accept responsibility, either personally or professionally, for the unknowing problems they create. In just a single week, I encountered multiple problems with people making bad decisions.

Many media shows are made in places where there is minimal regulation. States where some shows are filmed require no professional input. Many shows never include anything official in the form of licensed professionals, building officials, regulations, permits or even the mention of permits. While permits don’t make buildings stand up, shows mislead people into thinking of how easy or fast a project can get built. Thus, the reality upsets people who, in some cases, refuse to accept the truth. People feel empowered to defy the law.

During only one day, a contractor decided to ignore the hours when construction work could be done, another told the client he could change the structure, and another tried to defy the zoning requirements by changing the height. The next day, a potential client showed me their foundation-less deck, intending for it to be documented for a permit so they could sell. They weren’t expecting to be told they would need to invest in foundation piers under each post, which the law requires.

Then there are the contractor and plumber who were willing to do the work and take the money, during the pandemic, just not to cooperate with filing for the permit when the building department reopened. Hollywood is based on myth and illusion. Reality actually saves time and money, if you get caught or things have to be done over again.

© 2021 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.