Great Neck's board of trustees recently passed an "amnesty program,"...

Great Neck's board of trustees recently passed an "amnesty program," whereby homeowners with illegally finished basements can legalize the renovations with no penalties until mid-2025. Credit: Uli Seit

Great Neck Village residents with illegally finished basements in their homes now can legalize the renovations with no penalties until next summer.

The village board of trustees passed the measure last month, which gives homeowners a pass on penalties when applying for permits to legalize the work in their homes. 

Deputy Mayor Barton Sobel called it “a very good opportunity” for homeowners, but noted the “amnesty program” is not retroactive and will not erase existing fines. 

This proposal is in effect until from March 5 to July 2025 and residents still will be charged a standard basement permit fee of $1,500, Sobel said.

Sobel, who is a real estate attorney, said in an interview there are instances where a person buys a home with illegal improvements to the basement that former owners made. When the new homeowner applies for permits for a different renovation, a village inspector might find an illegally finished basement and issue a fine.

Sobel said the program will help ensure homes in the village are safe and up to code.

“Safety is really the most important issue here and the money we would get from the penalties doesn't equal that,” he said.

Finished basements must have permits for structural work that has been performed, including plumbing and electrical improvements, according to the deputy mayor.

Sobel said “a classic finished basement that would require a permit” would be if a homeowner makes the area into “habitable” living space.

Such spaces have certain height, egress and lighting requirements, according to the village code. He said three-piece bathrooms — with a sink, toilet and one other fixture — must be in “habitable” spaces.

Before the amnesty program, the village would double the permit fee in cases when unpermitted work had started in a home but wasn't completed. The fee would triple if the work was “substantially completed” before applying for a permit, according to village officials.

Abraham Kanfer, a Great Neck-based real estate agent, said unpermitted work often can come to light during emergencies, like basement floods, or when a person is trying to sell his or her home.

Kanfer said it would be worth it for homeowners to take advantage of the amnesty program, especially if they’re considering doing renovations that require permits, have current violations or are looking to sell their homes.

But Kanfer noted that “this will increase tax assessment because it wasn’t reported before and it increases the value of the home.”

The real estate agent said having a finished basement without a permit potentially could become a “hindrance” and affect the value of the home, if a buyer is required to “bring it up to code” after purchasing it.

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