Its the worst order that you could ever run into. If you dont know what it is, you're lucky. In short its a harsh way of the City of Albany telling you they dont like what you're doing with the property that you pay them huge taxes to own (which is an entirely different subject). Trying to clean out an old house? Maybe re-glaze some windows.....nope, need a permit. The city needs to know what you're doing, who's doing it and then collect a fee for collecting that information.
Of course permitting is very valuable in certain arenas of home improvement and beneficial. Should a Philosophy professor be allowed to install new electrical service, probably not (even though I've seen it done). For reasons of safety and insurance lots of things should be overseen. But the fact that they post these ominous signs with $500 price tags to remove is disheartening. I mean, after all, you're just trying to improve the city on a smaller scale, no?
Maybe instead of dolling out yesses and nos and collecting money for it like old school land barons, the city should act more like a pre-school teacher. A little coddling, hand holding and positive re-enforcement goes along way. It may even encourage others to do a little more around the house.