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Notification to Neighbors Regarding Building Permits

I have some neighbors who are doing quite a bit of renovation to a large detached garage. I do know that at one time, four or five years back, they had applied for a permit to turn the garage into a day care center. At that time they were refused the permit.

I called the city department that issues these permits and asked if a permit had been issued and what the permit was for. I was told I had to be a licensed contractor in order for them to reveal that information to me. However, the officer I spoke with did, seemingly reluctantly, reveal that a permit had been issued to renovate the garage in preparation for it being turned into a day care facility.

I wonder, when permits are issued, why is the type of permit issued, is kept from the general public? I think all residents of a neighborhood should have the right to know if structural changes to buildings are being made for the purpose of opening and operating a business. My specific question is: Would information such as this be covered under the Freedom of Information Act?

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful
Best Answer

I worked for my local municipality for a while and dealt with questions like this often. Obviously, your city will have different rules but hopefully this is helpful.

Where we live, all home based businesses need to have a basic business license and be approved by the planning department as a "Home Occupation", with the exception of daycares that watch 12 or fewer children.

So, if the homeowner in this case has already told your planning department the structural changes are for a home based business, they are really providing more information than necessary. As long as the structural changes meet code, and a licensed contractor does the appropriate work where necessary, then the home owner is under no obligation to say what the purpose of the renovation is other than general home improvement.

If they are planning on watching more than a dozen kids per day, then (in our city) they would need to get a business license and HomeOc permit. Up to 12 though, they don't need to tell anyone or report what they are doing, other than to the IRS.

Does your city have a "Code Enforcement" officer(s) at the police department? In our city, if a citizen has concerns like yours, they can contact Code Enforcement and have general questions answered about what is allowed and what isn't. If it sounds like there is a violation occurring, the officer will visit the property (reporter can remain anonymous) and determine if a citation is necessary.

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May 31, 20170 found this helpful

I think the zoning laws of the area determine whether a business can be run. Where I live, people run day care centers and have basement apartments against the zoning laws. If no one complains, it continues. If the permit was issued, it would seem to me that your area does allow for this. If I were you, I would contact a law school or Legal Aid Society to get some inexpensive or free advice about this.

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful

Thanks, Judy,

Yes, Zoning would issue permits for the building, but the state would closely examine the person(s) applying for a permit for the business.

The prospective business owners have had close relationships with known drug dealers, dealers who were arrested and imprisoned. Afterwards, their car windows were broken out. Fire was set to their front porch. For months, their windows were blackened out, I suppose to protect themselves from flying glass. They, being from another country, did not report any of this to the police as they did not want to draw attention to themselves.

There is a lot the state does not know. I will inform them if I think I should.

I have sat in on several meetings with police officers including Captains. Their words are always the same 'We cannot be everywhere all the time.We rely on you to make us aware of any illegal activities you witness or know about.

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful

When I lived in a coop, the woman above me had a day care center and wasn't supposed to. She never took the kids out and they were stir-crazy. I reported them time and time again. It took 2 years to finally catch parents dropping off and picking up the children. Be patient and stick up for yourself. It was awful living right underneath all that noise. I not only benefited myself, but the people I sold the apartment to.

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful

Judy,

This is so funny. When I read you lived in a coop, my mind went back 65 years. My aunt and uncle and all their children did for a time, live in a chicken coop. It was a commercial coop that had been renovated. There was no smell, it looked just like any other home and you would never know it had been a chicken coop unless you were told.

I think you meant co-op, because I never heard of a chicken coop with an upstairs.

You made my day. Thanks, Judy!

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful

The specific answer to your question - does the Freedom of Information Act cover something like this - I would have to say no - I do not think it would.

I worked in a Federal agency (many years ago) and we came across questions like this quite frequently and here is the/an answer:

The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies.

The FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, answer written questions, or in any other way create records (such as lists or statistics) in order to respond to a request.

i believe this statement is still accurate.

Still, you should be able to get access to the zoning code in your area (you probably already know this) and make someone tell you if it covers a business like that and if it does permit it, exactly what can they do or not do, how much parking space is required, can they post a sign, how many children allowed and any other questions you can think of.

I certainly agree that it should not be a secret but it appears that zoning is the only thing that counts.

I'm not sure I would call these people "neighbors" but I can think of many other words that might fit the description.

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June 1, 20170 found this helpful

Thanks, Betty,

I had a feeling the act might apply only to information of a 'Federal' nature.

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June 3, 20170 found this helpful

I heard the original poster saying why are these permits not public information. That would be up to that town to answer why they are or are not public knowledge. In my area, they are not public either, unless it is something that changes zoning. We have to have a permit to put in an outlet or add a bathroom. That is not anyones business but ours. If a home is being renovated to allow room for a handicapped bathroom, that is also kept private as if that info falls into the wrong hands, some crooks can find that home to be a target.

#####

I do some home daycare. I translate it as the following:

1. Neighbors applied for a daycare license, wanting to do it in the garage building. They were turned down, because it did not meet the state daycare requirements.

2. Neighbors then got a city or building permit, so that they could renovate the garage so that it will meet the state child care licensing rules.

3. In order to get these permits, they must meet the physical requirements, such as zoning, room for parking, room for play indoors and out. If their property was too small, the permits to renovate would not be issued.

Now, don't get upset with me, but as a childcare provider....this is what I hear you all saying.....

You are upset because you want to know what your neighbors are doing and they didn't tell you. They don't have to tell you. Its their property. If you are needing to know that much, go ask them. They are your neighbors? Do you not talk to your neighbors??

They are doing this legally it sounds like. They are not a meth lab, selling drugs or other illegal business. They are not putting in a noisy dog kennel. They are doing this the legal way, and people are upset because they are following the law??

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June 3, 20170 found this helpful

The city issued a permit for renovation and structural changes to a detached garage. I asked what the permit was for. I was told a day care center. There may well have been a need for a kitchen (ette) bathrooms etc. These items would have to pass inspection and meet city code.

The requirements for a day care center bathroom may be different than for a private dwelling or a public restroom. How could the city inspections approve a bathroom without knowing how it would be used? Electrical safety standards may be different for a facility providing care for several children. Again, the city would need to know.

If the neighbors did meet all building codes and were issued a permit to operate a day care center in the building, that's only half the story. They would still have to pass a rigorous examination by the state. While the city can issue city business permits and licenses, the state issues the actual license to operate a day care center.

Another matter to be dealt with is zoning. This is a city issue. Some zoning ordinances in my city are concrete, some are not. You cannot operate a bar or night club within a set number of feet from a church. Where you can operate a day care center falls into a grey area, maybe you can, maybe you can't and maybe whether you can or not may depend on the mood of the zoning board. Really sad.

Clarification time:

mom-from-missouri,

"I heard the original poster saying why are these permits not public information. That would be up to that town to answer why they are or are not public knowledge"

You are correct. I do though, find it a bit silly that this information is privileged information. I say this because once the business is established, it will be a matter of public record. Why the beforehand secrecy?

"Neighbors applied for a daycare license, wanting to do it in the garage building. They were turned down, because it did not meet the state daycare requirements"

I was told the neighbors previously applied for a permit to operate a day care center. I am of the understanding the business was to be run in the home. I do not know why the permit was denied.

"In order to get these permits, they must meet the physical requirements, such as zoning, room for parking, room for play indoors and out. If their property was too small, the permits to renovate would not be issued".

There is no room for parking except on a city street and not on the side where the day care center would be. Read on.

"You are upset because you want to know what your neighbors are doing and they didn't tell you. They don't have to tell you. Its their property. If you are needing to know that much, go ask them. They are your neighbors? Do you not talk to your neighbors??

I am not upset because they did not tell me. I do not speak with them. I did once when they were trespassing on my property. I had to engage the police to stop them from driving big trucks and long flatbed trailers on my property, time after time.

You remind me of a police officer dispatched when I was having problems with another neighbor. The officer asked if I had tried to reason with the neighbor. I asked, 'Officer, how do you reason with a man who walks down the street half naked with a 10 foot snake wrapped around his body? in other words Ma'am, you are assuming a lot.

What I am upset about is that the city would even entertain the idea of issuing these people permits without investigating the feasibility of a day care center in the given area. Child safety would be a grave concern. I don't give a flying Wallenda what my neighbors do as long as they leave me alone. When child safety is an issue, I will get involved. Read on.

"They are doing this the legal way, and people are upset because they are following the law??"

Laws can be bent and they often are by law enforcement right up to the judge. I would imagine this happens often in cities that are deemed 'sanctuaries' for certain peoples. The husband neighbor already conducts sheet metal fabrication in the enclosed area that would be used for the proposed day care center. His trucks and trailers sometime take up one whole side of the entire block. (I have pictures as proof). And these vehicles completely block what would be the entrance to the proposed day care center. I could go on and on, maybe about their associations with known drug dealers and the later consequences they suffered. Who knows but what these criminals may seek vengeance again. They could do damage to the day care center as they did the neighbors home but with the children inside. I could go on and on, but really, do I need to say more?

Back to my original question. cybergrannie answered it thoroughly and to my satisfaction. Disclosure of this type information is not covered under the Freedom of Information act.

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June 4, 20170 found this helpful

In my initial post, I did state the neighbors originally applied for a permit to operate a day care center in a garage. I was told of the application several years ago. I now believe I was mistaken in that the application more than likely was to secure a permit for operating a day care center in the home.

A neighbor who told me of this original application used to live in the house. She said the layout of the house was such that it would not be considered for day care use by the city.

The neighbor who told me this has since deceased and I cannot verify her statement. I apologize for any misunderstanding. This error on my part in no way negates all the reasons I've given for why this day care should not continue.

For what it's worth, the state agent who would investigate the neighbors and the garage to determine if a license should be granted informed me by email that she was unaware of any such application to the state by these neighbors.

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