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Question: I recently purchased an apartment where the previous owner built a floor-to-ceiling solid wall to separate and enclose the kitchen from the dining room. However, I don’t believe the wall went through the proper procedures (architect, permit, etc.). Am I liable for a previously installed wall that could be illegal?

— Tear Down This Wall In Brooklyn Heights

Dear Tear:

It’s your wall. You bought it when you bought the apartment. So if a drunk party guest should happen to put his head through it, then yes, like any homeowner, you’re liable. You’re just as liable whether the wall is legal or illegal, or, more precisely, whether it’s permitted or not permitted.

Because that’s the question you’re really asking. And the answer lies within a murky legal area because any significant alteration requires some sort of permit, but minor alterations don’t. So the question here is whether your wall is a significant or minor alteration.

And the answer depends less on the wall itself and more likely on what is in the wall or resting on it. The city says minor alterations “do not in any way affect health or the fire or structural safety of the building or the safe use and operation of the service equipment.” So if your wall is simply a few two-by-fours, some wallboard and trim, then chances are it was considered a minor alteration and no permit was required.

At the very least, a simple wall takes only an “ALT3” permit, which doesn’t require architectural drawings nor an inspection by the building department. Basically, the contractor takes out the permit and certifies that the work was done properly, and the city issues a “letter of completion.” If a permit was taken out but no completion letter issued, the real estate attorney who handled your purchase should have seen the “open” permit in the public records and raised a red flag before your closing.

If the wall has electrical outlets, plumbing or is a support or “load bearing” wall, then, it would have required a more stringent “ALT2” permit with plans submitted by an engineer or an architect and approved by the Department of Buildings.

On the whole, I wouldn’t sweat it. The wall didn’t pose a legal obstacle to your purchase of the apartment. Presumably, whoever had the wall built got approval from the co-op board or condo association to have a contractor work in the building. It is very unlikely they would have approved an alteration requiring a building permit if one wasn’t issued.