By Anessa V. Cohen
Years ago, just before going to contract with my home, I made a trip to the Town of Hempstead Building Department to get a copy of the building plans, attached permits, COs, and CCs (certificates of occupancy and certificates of completion) on file for the home. That way, I could review the plans of the house with my contractor, make sure that all of the certificates that should be in place actually existed, and make sure that whatever new construction and renovation I was contemplating doing after the purchase would be viable and that I would not run into any zoning issues.
Back then, the Town of Hempstead allowed you to build on 30% of the footprint of your house and property, similar to the way the Village of Cedarhurst still does presently. Unfortunately, for some reason, several years ago, the Town of Hempstead changed its guidelines, and it now only allows homeowners to build on 27% of the footprint of their property, making things that much harder for a homeowner trying to enlarge the building.
When I purchased a copy of the plans of my would-be new house back then, I certainly never thought the 30% rule would change. I went obliviously on my way to purchase my new home believing that I could renovate at any time and that the 30% rule would be waiting for me forever.
Fast-forward 25 years, and here I am wanting to enlarge simple things such as decks and porches. Because of the reduction of the 30% footprint rule to 27%, I now find myself needing a variance where years ago I would have just needed a permit to proceed with the plans I had in mind.
You would think that difference of three percentage points would only be a minor inconvenience to most homeowners. But I am finding more and more cases, as I list and sell many properties, where the homeowners have been in residence for 15 years or more and built decks and additions with this 30% footprint rule in the back of their minds. So more CO issues are coming up that need to be addressed before the homeowners can sell and close on their homes.
There seem to be many instances of long-term homeowners who built decks or additions many years ago, not following up with whichever contractors did the construction for them to make sure the proper permits, inspections, and CCs were filed after the work was completed.
Since most of these problem construction projects were completed during the time that the Town of Hempstead had the 30% footprint rule, the easy step of just filing the permit and then having the work inspected when finished, and receiving a CC would have been all that was necessary at the time of the construction.
But, because so many contractors were lax about filing the permits or arranging for final inspections after completing their work and having those CCs issued back then, homeowners looking to sell all these years later are finding themselves dealing with this problem.
For those homes where the work done still falls under the newer 27% footprint rule, the job is a little easier since they can still get a permit and inspection and then get their CCs without a huge expenditure of additional funds. But those whose construction falls beyond the 27% footprint rule are finding themselves having to dig deep in their pockets for expensive payments to architects and expediters to file for variances to get CCs for construction they thought had been filed and approved many years earlier.
There is nothing that can be done for these homeowners at this time other than going this expensive route to finally get their construction legalized. But it is a lesson for all of us either doing construction or planning construction. When the construction is done and the contractor wants you to sign off on the job that he has done, it is incumbent on homeowners to protect themselves from having to deal with Building Department issues in years to come, by making sure the contractors have filed the necessary permits and then had the work inspected and signed off on by the Building Department, and that a CC was issued and presented to you approving the construction.
Making sure that this was followed will prevent more aggravation down the line. There are many homeowners who had lots of construction done after Hurricane Sandy, and everyone who had construction done should make sure now, while they are still dealing with the contractors, that the necessary permits, inspections, and CCs are being taken care of on their behalf. Having to suddenly outlay large amounts of money to get permits, variances, and CCs years later, when guidelines may (or may not) change once again, is not a happy adventure. Take the time to sit down with your contractors and ask them to show you copies of the necessary permits they have filed for the work they are doing in your home, and follow up and make sure they have the necessary inspections done and follow up with your receiving the certificate.
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.