Ask the Architect

More complications from Superstorm Sandy


Q. We purchased our home with minor damage from Hurricane Sandy, and were told that because there was little or no damage, just mold in the unfinished basement and new boiler, the house was fine, no title problems. But when we tried getting a permit for a shed, we were told we needed a permit for storm-related repairs, including proof of our home’s value. We decided not to get the shed because of this, but we got a letter saying we still need the storm repair permit, regardless. None of the neighbors we spoke to ever got this permit. It seems we’re being punished for being honest and trying to do the right thing. Is there a way around this problem? What if we do nothing?

A. My answer may be as confusing as your situation. I have seen no consistency in this dilemma as I go from one municipality to another, and I’ve asked why some impacted jurisdictions don’t require as much paperwork and scrutinizing as others. The answer from officials was generally that each jurisdiction made assessments of the specific properties, and then recorded which ones were uninhabitable compared to which ones had various levels of needed repairs.
It may have been that at the time, when people were so devastated by their personal property losses, it seemed like a bad policy to hurt homeowners further with permit requirements and lots of administrative paperwork. The concerns for people’s emotions at that time have, seemingly, diminished. Your jurisdiction chose to notify people to submit estimates and property value statements, over a decade later, mostly when they apply for permits for unrelated projects.
I sat down to a Sunday-morning breakfast chat in a diner with the top elected official in your jurisdiction in February of 2013, four months after the storm, as a concerned citizen as well as a licensed professional and columnist. It was nice that they paid for breakfast, but I’m not sure they acknowledged the level of problems I was seeing, from the lack of communication and enforcement with the public. I suggested that it was better to notify everyone with specifics, not randomly ambush people when they applied for other things in the future, like you’re now experiencing.
I advised that everyone damaged by the storm could file basic repair letters, be contacted by block and lot numbers instead of all at once, and put the effects of the storm behind us all as quickly and painlessly as possible, but in a way that officially recorded people’s repairs in letter form and in a simple way. Building departments were extremely helpful in assisting people to get backup documents, and I saw an earnest effort to help the public. But many homeowners ignored letters, did nothing and seem not to be affected by requirements.
Your story is an example of the result I predicted. I wish I knew the answer. It may take another decade to figure this out. Good luck!

© 2022 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.