building permit? Trouble ahead
Real Estate Adviser,
I recently spent significant monies remodeling my house (kitchen,
bathrooms, wood flooring, patio, etc.). The contractor said he'd
get all the necessary city permits. After completion, I began to
suspect he didn't do so because there were no city inspections.
I've since attempted to contact him with no success. I did have
an independent electrician and plumber inspect the house and they
said everything seemed fine. What impact does this have on my ability
to eventually sell the house? I don't want to obtain the permits
now and have the city take down everything.
-- Jack Dupp
Based on the inspections you had, it sounds as if you had decent-quality
work done without the requisite permits, which is far better than
shoddy work done sans permits. But, at best, you are still in an
For edification sake, most municipalities require
permits for any kind of repair, improvement, construction, modification
or demolition work on a house. Separate plumbing, electrical and
mechanical permits are also required, as a rule.
In your case, the first course of action should be
to determine if any permits were actually granted for your address,
which you can accomplish by calling your city's building department.
It's unlikely that your request will raise any red flags, in part
because this information is public record, and people handling these
requests are generally in the business of information dissemination,
not field enforcement, and they are very busy.
If your "no-permit" suspicions are confirmed, you're
not alone. Some municipal building officials estimate that up to
half of the minor home remodeling work around town is performed
without the mandated permits, often by do-it-yourselfers. Sometimes
a city's permit process is so lengthy or red-tape laden that even
licensed contractors take shortcuts.
But this is increasingly problematic for homeowners
such as you for a number of reasons. In many states, a home seller
must divulge repairs or additions to potential buyers and disclose
whether they were performed with a permit. If they weren't permitted,
the buyers may demand that the seller get the work permitted and
inspected by the city before the transaction can be completed, or
at least demand a healthy discount for the problem they are inheriting.
Enforcement and fines for non-permitted work varies
greatly from area to area, but penalties can be between three and
10 times the cost of the permit. Worse, the city can demand portions
of the repair work be undone to make sure underlying components
were constructed safely. Another potential problem: Some insurance
companies will not pay a claim if a fire originates in, or another
problem stems from, an illegally constructed area.
Some homeowners in your situation will hire another contractor to get such existing work permitted, but this can cause city inspectors to suspect something below-board has occurred if they see the work is not freshly done.
Most times, particularly in cases such as yours, where
a contractor apparently deceived you, cities will go a little easier
on the homeowner while casting a suspicious eye on the contractor
if he surfaces in other local jobs -- something I discovered during
my days of covering real estate and construction for a large metro
Safety -- not just revenue -- is generally the chief concern of most code-enforcement and building departments. For the sake of your peace of mind, you might have to "come clean" here. I am sorry an unethical contractor caused you such concerns.
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