Local Building Inspectors and Code Enforcers are given tremendous power to issue citations and fines to property and business owners for violations of the building and fire code. With the economic downturn and lack of construction projects to oversee these inspectors are looking for ways to keep themselves busy during the day, generate revenue for their town, and avoid their own department layoffs. Unfortunately for property and business owners this means they are increasingly driving around looking for even the smallest code violation. If you receive notice of a violation, the fact that this violation has been in existence for many years is not a defense against the inspector’s notice.
These citations can carry large fines that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Paying the fine will not erase the building violation. If the violation is not properly dismissed or corrected to the Building Department’s satisfaction you can subjected to increased fines and penalties. You will then be summoned into criminal court to defend yourself against a prosecutor who will be working directly with the Building Department. There are many cases of property owners who attempted to work things out with the Building Department officials only to receive notice of additional fines and penalties levied for the “delay” in correcting the violations. If you decide to repeatedly ignore the violations you can be sentenced to jail.
If you do try and approach the Building Department yourself, you will find that most of the inspectors and prosecutors do not understand their own building codes. You could be paying a fine or making repairs for something much more serious than the actual condition of your property or business. This could cause the loss of thousands of dollars in fines and repairs for upgrades to your property that were unnecessary and add no value to your asset.
If your property is in violation of the building code and you need to make repairs you are going to need expert guidance to deal with the architects, engineers, and contractors that you might have to hire to get the violations abated. Engaging an Architect or Engineering firm who does not share your limited interest in doing the minimum to comply with the municipal code can cause your repair costs to skyrocket. You are going to need an attorney experienced in code review who can keep the architects and engineers focused on the limited task at hand; and then communicate with the Building Department to ensure the plans are approved. You also want an attorney on your side when dealing with any contractors and subcontractors you may need to complete the project. Having an attorney experienced in construction law will make the contractors think twice before trying to increase the cost of the work through change orders or claiming they misunderstood scope of work.
Alexander Restaino has years of experience working directly with the most of the Building Departments in the New York Metropolitan area including the New York City, Rockland, and Westchester, including White Plains, Yonkers, Port Chester, Rye, Greenburgh, Mount Pleasant, North Castle, New Castle and Mount Vernon.