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Existing conditions without a permit

  • 1.  Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-02-2024 11:08 AM

    Curious to know what the norm is or what others are doing in a situation like below:

    • I am working on an interior renovation for a project for a single family dwelling, with no change to the zoning bulk. The dwelling however has an addition that was most likely done without a permit. Is there anything in the architects standard of care that would require me to flag this addition to the AHJ? 
    • My plan of action was to do the interior alteration drawings and add a note to my drawings that the addition is not part of this certification or is to be filed / legalized separately. 

    Any feedback would be appreciate it



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    Arben Sela AIA
    BuildPlus Architecture PLLC
    West Nyack NY
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 2.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-03-2024 05:57 PM

    I assume that different jurisdictions have different enforcement protocols.  Where I practice (Northern Virginia), this wouldn't be a problem.  You are not responsible for something that was designed and constructed by someone else.  There is no reason to flag the addition as being constructed without a permit - especially if you don't really know the facts.  Your standard of care is limited to the work that you design and control - as well as notifying the homeowner of any existing work that you know to be substandard or dangerous.  If your proposed work extends into the area that you suspect is non-conforming, the county might possibly prevent that work from moving forward.  But, it doesn't seem reasonable that they would prevent interior renovation work on a structure that already exists, where no expansion is proposed.

    My advice is that you treat it like any other existing structure.  For example, if you are remodeling a few rooms of a home that was built in the 1950s, you cannot be required to bring every element of the entire house up to today's code.  And there is no reason to flag all the elements that are non-compliant.  It is understood that existing homes might not comply with today's code or zoning regulations.  You simply take responsibility for your own scope of work.

    I hope this works out for you!



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    Robert Braddock AIA
    Bowers Design Build
    McLean VA
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 3.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-03-2024 06:31 PM

    Thank you Robert, correct as far as protocols for different jurisdictions. For ex, in NYC anytime you file a project for permit, you are required to certify existing conditions by doing a record search and proving existing zoning bulk, otherwise project doesn't move forward. The NYC dob will go as far back as sanborn maps to prove a structures bulk. So NYC is clear, but I am having issues with areas outside of New York city which I also work in. 

    My question was more related to if there is anything in AIA contract documents or standard of care that deals with architects responsibility for existing conditions. 



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    Arben Sela AIA
    BuildPlus Architecture PLLC
    West Nyack NY
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 4.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-03-2024 07:43 PM
    The standard of care for architects includes the duty to adhere to all relevant building codes and regulations. Encountering an addition to a single-family dwelling that appears to have been constructed without a permit poses a professional and ethical dilemma.

    Architects are generally not obligated to proactively report code violations or unpermitted work to authorities. However, if the unpermitted work affects your renovation project or violates code in a way that impacts safety or compliance, you may need to address it in your plans.

    Also, AIA and other professional organizations provide ethical guidelines that emphasize the importance of adhering to laws and regulations. Ignoring unpermitted work could potentially lead to liability issues for you as the architect, especially if the work poses a safety hazard.

    Finally, you should inform your client about the unpermitted addition and its potential implications. This is important both for ethical transparency and to protect your professional liability.



    Matias Santini, AIA




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  • 5.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-03-2024 08:24 PM

    The question I have for you is does your project directly impact the "addition" in question?  if not, why even show it on your drawings?  You said yourself you don't know if the addition was permitted or not.  For your own liability, if your project is a modification to a presumed non-permitted structure, you owe it to yourself to get the advice of a structural engineer to modify it if necessary.  If modifications aren't in the budget or the client refuses to allow them, you should walk from the project or tell your client you have to disclose it and the AHJ may take exception to permitting it.  I would caution you about proceeding under those circumstances.  Your E&O won't cover you for disclosing a known deficiency and you did the project anyway.   



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    Stephen Reinel AIA
    Reinel Architecture & Design, LLC
    Jacksonville FL
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 6.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-04-2024 05:05 AM

    Knowing this is not the answer you are seeking, but first things first.  Your professional responsibility includes not basing your actions or recommendations on "most likely" circumstances.  Was it permitted or not?  Was it required to be permitted?  Does it contain now hidden unknown structural conditions?  Is it otherwise out of conformity with building or zoning codes?  


    Now, having performed appropriate due diligence, I think you explain the circumstance to the Owner, the potential pitfalls present, and jointly decide whether and how to proceed.

    in my many years of practice, there were times when the thoughtless over reach of building departments caused me to recommend being less than forthright with those departments, when no health, safety and or welfare issues were involved.

    i would never, did never knowingly, put my client at risk without their knowledge of such an action.

    OK, let's see what the resident ethicists have to say about my position.

    Best wishes

    Mike Mense FAIA.                                           New York City and Snohomish Washington



    ------------------------------
    Mike Mense FAIA
    Architect, Writer, Planner, Painter
    mmenseArchitect
    mensenyc on Instagram
    Hamilton Heights, NYC and Snohomish WA
    ------------------------------

    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 7.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-08-2024 10:45 AM
    Edited by Robert B. Ross AIA 01-08-2024 10:45 AM

    It's an existing condition. Don't overthink it unless there is a potential danger to the owner. As you said, it was most likely done without a permit, but you don't know for sure. Assume the best and plan for the worst.



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    Robert Ross AIA
    Ross Design, Inc.
    Atlanta GA
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 8.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-10-2024 08:29 PM

    Thank you Robert, this is the approach I am taking, overthought it, was more interested in what others have done and how my approach would compare.



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    Arben Sela AIA
    BuildPlus Architecture PLLC
    West Nyack NY
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 9.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-09-2024 06:18 PM

    Hi, Arben -

    My answer pretty direct.  So, my practice is across the river from yours (coincidentally).  Every town in our region requires permits for ANY alterations that exceed 'usual maintenance and repairs'.  That means the whole property might be inspected before and at intervals during construction of your project.  I recommend (for your sake and in the interest of your clients) that you raise this issue with them right away.  The completion of this project will ultimately mean bringing the c. of o. up to date.  With addition- alterations it always is wise (a strong start) to visit the building department, and request to view the property files - you'll see what permits have been filed, see the C. of O. history of the house, and (conveniently) you can get copies of recent plans for reference. It's always better to know as much as you can about the property you are working on, and most AIA Owner-Architect agreements state in the owner's responsibilities that "...the owner shall provide full information about ... the constraints and existing conditions of the project."   If the current homeowners, your clients, did the addition without a permit, you need to tell them that this current project and necessary inspections will bring that work to light, so they might need to 'legalize' that addition, which could be a parallel effort (assignment for you) to the interior alteration they originally hired you to do.  Hopefully, the addition was permitted, and they have a clear C. of O.!



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    Julie Evans AIA
    Julie Evans Architecture & Design
    Croton on Hudson NY
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.


  • 10.  RE: Existing conditions without a permit

    Posted 01-13-2024 11:19 AM

    Thank you for your input Julie. I did some research and found this from the New York State Education Department. I think its pretty self explanatory but its specific to code issues, not zoning.

    1. Identification of Serious Code Violations

      An architect who identifies a serious code violation on a project site with which he/she is, or might be associated in a professional capacity, should bring this situation to the attention of the appropriate parties. Appropriate steps to follow might include:

      • The client or owner should be informed of such violations.
      • Violations appearing to pose an imminent danger to the public's health, safety, or welfare should be reported to the local authority having jurisdiction.
      • An architect has a professional obligation to document the violation to both the client/owner and the authority having jurisdiction even if informing the client/owner might jeopardize the award of the associated commission.
      • If the code violations are present in the area of a potential project, and the architect is assigned the commission, he/she should endeavor to have such violations included as an integral part of the scope of the design solution.


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    Arben Sela AIA
    BuildPlus Architecture PLLC
    West Nyack NY
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    Jain us at AIA24 for practice-related sessions! June 5 to 8, Washington, DC, click here to learn more.