Jan 31, 2008

When Are Building Permits Required?

Paul RudeToday, we're introducing a special feature: Guest blogger Paul A. Rude, a retired California General Contractor and Certified Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Paul will answer reader questions on remodeling, dealing with contractors, and home maintenance.

We need to add a bath in our family room so our teenagers and guests can have more privacy. Do we need to get a permit?

Absolutely. With very few exceptions, a permit is required for anything that involves structural work, opening wall surfaces, or changes to electrical, plumbing, or other utilities. Of course, you should also stick to the speed limit on the freeway, not jaywalk, and never claim questionable tax deductions.

If you work without a permit and the local authorities find out about it, they will issue a Stop Work order. You will then have to submit plans, obtain any zoning approval that may be required, and pay a penalty on permit fees. This can stall a project for months. Work already completed may have to be redone if it doesn't meet current standards; this can be expensive. There may be code or zoning standards that would be impossible to meet, in which case you may have to pay to restore the house to its original condition.

Even if you don't get caught, there are still some negatives. Most experienced contractors will not work without a permit, as it can jeopardize their license. Unless you're doing the work yourself (a topic for another day), you may have to hire an inexperienced or unlicensed contractor who is more likely to cut corners and make mistakes. These guys usually don't have insurance, so you could be liable if someone gets hurt or if a lumber delivery lands on your neighbor's Lexus. When you sell the house, you must disclose to the buyers any work done without permits. Failure to do so can expose you to a costly lawsuit.

Paul is the owner of Summer Street Inspections in Berkeley, California. His opinions are based on conditions in California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Conditions elsewhere may be substantially different. Contact Paul at paul@summerinspect.com. To find an ASHI inspector in the Bay Area, go to www.ggashi.org . Elsewhere, go to www.ashi.org

1 Comments

That could be a really annoying process to get permit for these structural works as it occured at our neighbourhoods in Toronto where people like to do jobs around their home themselves. That`s true that it could be even worse, the appropriate example is England where you can`t build a house in different style like the ordinary there, the authorities simply don`t allow it. They want to maintain the general outlook of their landscape which is nice but very unconvenient for the new investors.