Demolition of a basement bathroom
Q. I am the Seller of a house in a Village in Nassau County. Years ago, I installed a bathroom (shower, sink, toilet) in the basement without obtaining permits. It did not seem important at the time and would only have delayed the construction, cost me more money, and opened up my home to the Village’s building department inspector’s snooping around my home. Plus, it was in the basement so the Village would not know from looking at the outside of the house. Fast forward a number of years and I “uninstalled” the bathroom right before putting my home on the market for sale. The Purchaser did not object to the condition of the basement, but apparently, the Purchaser’s lender (mortgage bank) does. My attorney notified me that the Purchaser’s lender wants me to apply for a “demolition permit” from the Village and obtain a Certificate of Demolition. If I do not do this, the Purchaser’s lender will not fund the loan and we will not be able to close. What a mess! What do I do now?
A. I hear (see) your frustration and yet, from your question you appear to understand the dilemma here. On one hand, the Purchaser is willing to take your word that the “uninstallation” was done by competent trades-people according to the local Building Code. The Purchaser’s lender is concerned that work was not performed to code and will lead to problems in the house down the road. The lender is looking out for its own interest and is justified in doing so.
Would it have been a good idea to get the proper Permit and Certificate at the time of construction of the bathroom? The answer is certainly yes, as you would have been assured the work was done properly, you would not have had to “uninstall” the bathroom, and closing would not have been delayed. As a result, you probably would have saved money doing the work legally. But, as they say, that is “water under the bridge.”
To paraphrase the Pareto Principle, let’s spend 20% of our time on the problem and 80% on the solution. What do you do now? There is no perfect answer to this question – only possible modes of action. Your attorney has likely taken the following step; however, in case he/she has not, contact the Village Building Department – without necessarily disclosing any identifying information (name and address) – to find out what needs to be done, the time frame involved, and how much it will cost to obtain the permit. Be careful not to open a Pandora’s box by giving your information to the Building Department at this time. Your attorney may be able to successfully resolve this problem without having to obtain the permit.
Next, ask your attorney to contact the Purchaser’s lender directly to verify what is being requested. Perhaps, your attorney, Purchaser’s attorney, and the lender’s representative may arrive at a less costly, quicker, alternative resolution of the issue. Finally, contact a plumber with connections to your Village Building Department (some plumbers are quite familiar with how Building Department inspectors work) to find out what is involved in obtaining the Demolition Permit and how to proceed.
If you have no other choice and must proceed with the permit process, it is very important to find and hire tradespeople or expediters (who have connections with the local Building Department and, for a fee, will help to expedite – or rush – your permit and Certificate process) who have connections in your local area. For example, if you live in Great Neck, a plumber familiar with practices in the Town of Hempstead, but not in the Town of North Hempstead or the Villages of Great Neck or Great Neck Plaza, would not be as helpful. This is an instance where who your plumber knows (and who knows your plumber) makes the difference. As they say, all politics are local.
Please do not infer from my answer that I am condoning any illegal building activity or suggesting that you not follow the proper procedures to obtain construction or demolition permits and certificates. I am not. Building codes protect all parties and insure work is performed to code. Rather, I am suggesting that in these particular circumstances, there are numerous options to consider.
Post-script: Here is the end of the story. When all of the Seller’s efforts failed to resolve the matter, the home owner was prepared to pay a well-connected plumber to obtain the Demolition permit and Certificate and arranged with the plumber to start the process. The night before the plumber applied for the permit from the Village [not Great Neck, as in the example], suddenly the Purchaser’s lender agreed to waive the Demolition permit requirement for clearance to close on the loan. No reason was given by the lender and no one knows why this condition was dropped. Needless to say, the home owner was thrilled and saved quite a bit of money and time. The Village was none the wiser and the sale transaction closed within one week. True story.