Ask the Architect

‘I’m sure they got us a permit’


Q. We’re retired, and live part of the year in Florida and part in New York. Eventually we plan to sell. Recently we had our kitchen redone, and had to make changes to a closet to make more room. Twenty-plus years ago we took down a wall and enlarged the kitchen, and I’m hearing that it was supposed to have a permit. The contractor was a big outfit that has commercials on TV, and I’m sure they got us a permit for the work. I understand that it may come up when we sell. Is this true and how do we know if there was a permit? We looked everywhere, but can’t find one? What should we do?

A. There is always the chance, especially in tighter economic times, that a lending bank inspector will be looking more carefully at what was done, in comparison with the original plans for the house. I often get desperate calls from people who’ve just been given two weeks to get a permit for something done many years ago. People generally don’t understand how long each step in a legalization process takes.
There is even the tease of an express permit by some building departments. I use the word tease because you and the architect are being set up for disappointment if the person reviewing the plans finds one note they want added or a dimension, etc. I have been informed that when that happens, your plans go into the pile with the rest of regular filings and your express fee is history.
Depending on your building department and your architect’s workload, it may take several weeks or even months to obtain a permit, especially if other things are discovered now that the radar is focused on your home. I have seen your jurisdiction pursue violations for air conditioning units with no permit, fences, decks, sheds, pools and finished attics, all because you filed for the wall in your kitchen from 20-plus years ago. Your municipality, like most, doesn’t send out newsletters informing you that these items require permits with any information about what to do. They usually refer that chore to the architect, to explain the problem and the process.
When asking questions, at some point, you will be told that “your architect will know what to do.” You should check your old papers, a contract from the kitchen remodel or anything that showed that the contractor was obligated to get you the permit, and also request a search of Building Department records. Your home, if built after 1930, should have plans on file that you can compare with your current conditions. Don’t be surprised if the plans are out of focus or not for your house. Before computers, it was more common.
Remember that you, the homeowner, are 100 percent responsible for the permit, not the architect and not the contractor. You may hold them accountable, but the property owner is responsible. 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.