Win with the zoning board.

A rule is a rule is a rule … unless, of course, it's a building code. Then, it seems to be open to interpretation. And that, says Jim Climer, an attorney with Mazanec, Raskin, Ryder & Keller Co. LPA in Solon, is what keeps zoning boards of appeal -- and sometimes, courts -- busy.

Climer usually represents municipalities in such disputes, so he knows what a homeowner can do to get what she wants -- within reason.

>Know the code. A city's zoning laws and building codes are often on its Web site, making it easy to read and understand them before starting a project. This is an especially critical step for DIYers.

>Call the building department or zoning inspector with questions. "A quick phone call can save a lot of headaches," Climer says. "Even if it's just to ask whether you need a permit or not."

>Hire a reputable architect and contractor. Call the Better Business Bureau and check with the city to find out what contractors have been licensed to work there. A legitimate contractor or architect should interface with the city's building departments. However, Climer warns that it's still important for homeowners to double-check that they've got the proper permits.

>Make sure your plans and drawings are done properly. To prevent any delay, this should be done before you request a permit.

>Give yourself plenty of time. Allow several weeks before starting your project to get a building permit from the city.

>Be cooperative. This is one of the most important things to remember, whether you're going for a permit or presenting before a board of appeals. "Approaching it cooperatively or in a professional fashion doesn't mean you give in," Climer says. But giving a reasoned, calm presentation on the merits of the case is received better than yelling and screaming.

>Know your rights. Understand how your city's appeals process works. For example, your neighbors also have the right to speak at your hearing if they don't agree with your project. If you've gone through your appeals and still disagree, you can take your case to court -- but that's expensive.


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