We frequently receive inquiries about residential renovations–from sellers looking to increase the curb appeal of their homes as well as from recent buyers hoping to make improvements that will enable their house or apartment to function better and feel like “home”.
Always eager to serve, I am introducing a new HREN feature: The Home Improvement Series, in which I will discuss many facets of the renovation process, viewed through the lens of the real estate market here in Hoboken. What are buyers looking for? Where is money well spent? What clever solutions have I seen in my travels?
Working with me on this series will be my brother-in-law–the most recent addition to the Turoff Team–who has spent almost 20 years working as a residential architectural designer and project manager. He will contribute practical advice and technical know-how along with some of his spectacular design talent (to use his words…).
Between the two of us, we have plenty to say, but if you have any questions on the topic, don’t hesitate to submit them, and we will try to assist you.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Question 1: I am planning some “cosmetic” renovations to my Hoboken Condo. Do I need a permit?
As with so much in this life, one person’s idea of a minor task might strike someone else as a substantial project, and while you know what you mean when you say “cosmetic”, there are specific guidelines defining what scope of work can be undertaken without a permit. Hoboken residents are governed in this arena by the city’s Construction Code Office which, in turn, administers and enforces the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code. When you plug “cosmetic renovation” into the Universal Code Jargon Translator, the phrase that pops out is “Ordinary Maintenance”–the tasks that any homeowner can undertake in the course of maintaining their home.
Alteration to the number or configuration of rooms will always require a permit. While some minor alterations to walls can be considered “ordinary maintenance”, it is a good idea to check with an architect or contractor before you start swinging your hammer. No modification of any structural wall or element is allowed without a permit, and the extent to which non-structural walls can be altered without a permit varies from case to case.
Any work that involves any change to the path of Egress–the emergency escape route from your home–requires a permit. This includes any change to the dimensions or configuration of the hallways or stairs, any change to the configuration of the home’s entry doors or egress windows–windows that lead out to fire escapes, fire ladders etc.
Within these parameters, however, there is a fair amount of work that can be considered “cosmetic” renovation work, largely related to interior finishes–painting, installation of ornamental trim, re-finishing floors, replacement of doors–and minor plumbing and electrical work: repairs and replacement of faucets, bathroom fixtures, electrical fixtures, receptacles,etc.
Beware the “Slippery Slope”
One phenomenon that you will encounter in any contemplation of “minor” construction projects is the “slippery slope”. Yes–replacing the water controls in your shower is “ordinary maintenance” under the NJ UCC. But any changes to “piping arrangements–the hot- and cold-water pipes inside the walls–is not. You can replace your old shower handles and valves with new ones without a permit, but if you decide that you want to add a hand-held shower–great for washing the dog–and a second shower head–for a romantic shower a deux–and maybe a rain head and a couple of body jets, you will need to re-work the plumbing pipes in your shower, and the code requires you get a permit. Plumbing and Electrical tasks are the most likely to lead you down a slippery slope and for that reason–and for safety’s sake–I encourage you to engage the services of a licensed plumber or electrician for all but the most basic tasks. A professional will know when your goal involves work that will take you out of the realm of ‘ordinary maintenance’ and into the Permit Zone.
In coming installments, we will take a look at these “ordinary maintenance” tasks in greater detail and look at some of the ways you can “renovate” your home, one small step at a time.