Once you own a home in New York, you want to do everything possible to keep it updated and looking good. This might mean adding onto the home or doing other home improvement projects. You should note that for many such projects you need a building permit and a certificate of completion or occupancy from the municipality you live in to make it “legal” and to avoid issues in the future.

If you fail to get the proper permits and certificates, it could cause problems for you down the road if you decide to sell your home. If a buyer discovers the unpermitted or unapproved work, it could lower the amount you can get for your home or even stop or delay the sale.

Proper disclosure

By law, you should disclose known material issues with your home, which could include unpermitted or unapproved work. However, often a seller will try to sell without telling potential buyers about such things.

While the law in New York is “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware), sometimes full disclosure is a better alternative. You should never attempt to hide a material defect in such a way that a buyer would not be able to find it on an inspection or by review of public records. That can be fraud. While difficult to prove, the consequences can be very serious.

Permit and Inspection Requirements

Understanding building permit and certificate of completion or occupancy requirements are extremely important because you may not even need a permit for the work you have done. For example, if you added a shed onto your property, the municipality may not require a permit if it is of a certain size but will require a permit if it exceeds that size. Similarly, there can be “side yard” or “setback” requirements that have to be complied with. Most repairs do not require permits or certificates.  However, any change to the “footprint” of a house, with an extension or addition, the construction of a deck, and installing a pool or a generator will all require building permits and certificates of completion. So, too, will the removal of an underground fuel oil tank or asbestos.

If you do find that you should have had a permit for your home improvement work, then you need to contact the local building department and find out what steps you should take to remedy the situation. You will have to pay for the permit, sometimes based upon the estimated cost of the improvement. You may also have to make changes if your construction does not meet current building codes.  Sometimes you will need a licensed professional architect, engineer or plumber or electrician to submit plans and certifications to the building department.

Each building department has its own requirements and even though the New York State Building Code is operative, each municipality has different requirements which must be followed.

Be sure to be in compliance with all local building department requirements. It will make the sale or refinance of your home go much more smoothly.