By Anessa V. Cohen
A lot of confusing information has been making the rounds about the correct way to approach the repairs and renovations necessary to bring our homes back to normal from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.
For those of us affected, the immediate concerns after viewing the disaster inflicted by the storm were to figure out the fastest way to get back on track and deal with whatever damage we were left with, whether it was a basement, a first floor, an entire house, or, if we were lucky, just a situation of some minor repairs caused by wind damage.
Everyone chased contractors, plumbers, and electricians, looking to grab someone who was available to fix the damage and get their lives back to normal. Frankly, most people did not even consider whether there were rules out there for how they needed to go about this—assuming that building code requirements were surely suspended for this disaster—and moved ahead with an every-man-for-himself mentality in order to get back to the way things were before the storm.
After receiving many calls asking me to come over and either give an opinion on existing damage or view work already done, I began to realize that many people were plowing ahead with repairs without considering what permits or codes were necessary and actually in effect—rules that are there to protect people, not to get in their way.
With this in mind, I decided to ask Wayne Yarnell, our Cedarhurst Building Inspector, if he would sit down with me and go over what the building code requirements were for people repairing and rebuilding after Sandy and share this information with everyone, so there are no misunderstandings as to what is required from each homeowner doing renovations. Some very interesting information came forward from this interview.
Wayne reminded me to mention that they are not the police, but are here in the Village of Cedarhurst office to help you do things the right way. He encourages you to call and ask for assistance for any help you need with building code information.
• First off, anyone with more than 50% structural damage to their home from the storm must consider not only building code regulations but FEMA regulations when rebuilding. The one item I will mention here is that those contemplating raising their homes higher to protect them from future flooding are allowed to build as high as 33 feet as opposed to 30 feet high and still be in compliance with building requirements. There are many different issues when you fall into this category, and my suggestion is that you call and speak with the building department in your area as well as consult with an architect before proceeding with any kind of renovations.
• All boilers, water heaters, and air-conditioning equipment that was underwater must be inspected by a licensed plumber—at the very least—to make sure of its safety after being compromised by the saltwater. In the case of changing and replacing this equipment, a plumbing permit must also be applied for with the building department by a licensed plumber, and the subsequent work must be inspected by a plumbing inspector, at which time a certificate of compliance will be issued that the work was done to code.
• All electrical work must be completed by a licensed electrician. Any electrical wiring and connections that were underwater must be replaced at least 14 inches above the flood line. An electric permit must be applied for with the building department by the electrician, followed up by an inspection by an electrical inspector, at which time once again a certificate of compliance will be issued that the work was done according to building code.
• Replacement of damaged structural items, such as floors, walls, or wall joists, can be a gray area, depending on the type of work as well as the size of the project. If you need to do this type of work, I suggest you call the building department and ask them if a building permit is required for the specific type of work that you are contemplating.
• Please keep in mind that the new state building code requires that crawlspaces cannot be used for habitable area. There are now vents that are installed in the crawlspaces that act like flappers—when there is flooding, the water goes in and then the flappers allow it to go back out again.
• Last but not least, I want to discuss the garage issue in the Village of Cedarhurst, which I brought up in a recent article but has elicited much confusion. The Village of Cedarhurst requires all homes to have garages. But since Sandy, there has been a big change for many of those who are situated in the flooded areas known on the flood map as AE areas. For homeowners in this area with attached garages, in some cases they may be able to do away with their garages permanently and have the garage space converted to a permissible use by applying for a waiver. There is a large application process to this and a $500 application fee before an application will even be considered by the board. The homeowner must present in detail the reasons that necessitate this change. Not every homeowner will be approved for this process. A lot has to do with flood circumstances as well as the height and location of the existing attached garage. If you are considering this option, you must go to the village and ask for the application explanation documents, which will explain in detail the process and basic qualifications. v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.