America was largely founded on the idea of personal liberty. The country sought to curb the power of government so its people could choose better paths for themselves. That may be why property owners of yesterday and today don't always pay attention to the permit laws of their state, county, or municipality. Unpermitted work is common, but there are ways that current homeowners can remediate the problem.
Unpermitted work occurs when property owners make repairs or renovations to their propertywithout first getting approval from the appropriate officials. An example of that might be home foundation repairs. There are a few things to keep in mind about the nature of building regulations:
- They're inconsistent: What a homeowner is allowed to do in a small town in Idaho is vastly different than what a condo owner can do in downtown Manhattan. The inconsistency is such that many people don't even realize they're ignoring the law when they go about improving their home.
- They change: What a homeowner was allowed to do in 1997 may be very different than what they were allowed to do in the same home in 1998. Unless people kept the records of their repairs, it can be difficult to prove that the improvements were made during the lawful time period.
- They're made for safety: Some people think that permit laws are just a nuisance or a way to extract money from property owners, but they're designed to keep neighboring property safe. Features like plumbing and wiring are interconnected, so what one homeowner does can have a major effect on the other people in their area.
Finding the Laws
The first thing a homeowner can do to remediate unpermitted work is to look up the current laws. This may mean checking with an HOA, searching online, or visiting the local City Hall. This step won't tell homeowners what was and wasn't allowed when the work actually occurred, but it can give them a better sense of the priorities of the area. Or homeowners can talk to one of the local inspector or officials in the neighborhood. They can provide more detailed information about the specific steps homeowners can take to remediate unpermitted work.
What to Expect
Most Nederland homeowners will be asked to prove what exactly occurred and when. They may need to produce original blueprints of the home to show how the configuration changed, or contact the past sellers for records of the repairs.
Sometimes, it's as easy as scheduling an inspector to come by and look at the home. Inspectors will look for certain things, including possible unpermitted work. As long as the renovations were performed correctly (whether they were done by a certified contractor or not), inspectors can issue a retroactive permit for homeowners.
A retroactive permit is usually the best case scenario. The other scenario is that the inspector finds the work is shoddy and potentially dangerous for the homeowner and their neighbors. That's why experts recommend taking care of unpermitted work as soon as possible. The longer homeowners wait, the more likely it is for hazards or structural damage to occur. New homeowners are responsible for taking the steps to get the home up to code, which may mean paying for the repairs, correcting and necessary permits themselves.
Unpermitted work can be frustrating to find for any number of reasons, especially if it was never discovered by the previous sellers. Homeowners do have a few options if they don't want to pay for the cost of the unpermitted work.
- Contact the original sellers: The original sellers may be liable for costs of unpermitted work if the seller knew about the work. This may involve tracking down a lawyer or doing research for small claims court.
- Sell as-is: Homeowners aren't usually required to get the home up to code to sell. (However, they may still be held legally liable if property destruction occurs to neighboring homes due to unpermitted work.) When it comes time to sell, they can sell the home as-is, which means the buyers purchase the property regardless of its flaws.
Many home buyers are nervous to purchase a home as-is, which can make the home more difficult to sell. If owners choose to hide the unpermitted work when they sell, they could potentially be held liable for the cost of any necessary permits, repairs, or renovations the new homeowners have to make.
Unpermitted work may feel like an unsolvable problem, but there are ways for homeowners to make it right. From research to remediation, homeowners have more power than they think. For most property owners, it can be as simple as paying for a retroactive permit. In more complicated cases though, they may have to contact the original sellers or sell their home as-is.