Archive for April, 2010

Do I need a permit?

April 23, 2010

Warning!  This post contains heavy sarcasm.  Read at your own risk.

Do I need a permit?

The short answer is – YES, Absolutely!  And I mean it.

There is only one exception to this rule – a single story utility shed of 200 square feet or less (2009 IRC)


Because …. If you don’t, and you get caught, you will regret it to your dying day.
And you will get caught.  It’s just a matter of time.

Who’s going to catch me?

Who won’t?

  • Snoopy neighbors – especially the one whose view you’ve just blocked
  • The Assessor’s office when they come by for their regular property assessments
  • The Sheriff’s office, the Building Department, unhappy tenants, …… the list goes on.

The number one reason people get caught is the bank.  Really.

People make all kinds of modifications to their homes, especially additions – master suite, family room, extra bath, covered porch and so on.

Before banks will loan money for the purchase or refinance of a property and/or home, they do a title search and it turns up a lot.

The purchaser wants to borrow money for a 3 bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house, but the title shows a 2 bedroom 1-1/2 bath house.

OOPS!  Where did that extra bed and bath come from?  Where is the documentation?

Oh my – no documentation?  How do we, the lending institution, know that the addition meets minimum construction and safety standards?  We don’t, so it will need to be verified by procuring the proper permits and inspections.

That’s when I, or my colleagues, get a frantic call, “We want to close next week and we need a permit!”

At this time I try desperately to find the words to sympathetically say, “Too Bad, So Sad.  It ain’t going to happen.” – at least in my neck of the woods.

Your pending sale just got blown out of the water.

No matter how you got caught, you will now have to fix the problem.
A complete permit package consists of:

  • Architectural plans, elevations and sections
  • Structural calculations, plans and details
  • A site plan – may require a property survey
  • Approved septic design with final inspection (if applicable)
  • Verification of water supply (if applicable)
  • Completed permit application

To put this package together you may need to hire more than one design professional.  Field measurements need to be taken and the structural elements need to be verified.  How does one verify structure – by exposing it.  Sad, but true.  This can take a great deal of time, especially when the design professionals already have a full calendar.  Contrary to popular belief, we don’t sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the desperate to call.

Once you have obtained all the necessary documentation, you may now APPLY for the permit.  The permit review process can take several days and quite possibly several weeks, depending on how busy the permitting office is.

Oh, but wait!  The engineer discovered several areas where the structure does not meet minimum construction standards and it has to be repaired.  Ouch!  Now the deficient portions need to be rebuilt and inspected.

Producing a set of plans from an already constructed building is more difficult and time consuming than providing them from scratch, and therefore far more expensive.  Redoing part, or perhaps all, of the structure will cost more than if it had been done right the first time.

Lets recap:  You –

  • didn’t get a permit
  • got caught
  • lost a sale
  • paid professionals – double
  • paid permit fees
  • paid fines on top of the permit fees

For those of you who purchased property with unpermitted structures or additions (title searches aren’t perfect) and now find yourselves in the painful position of having to fix someone else’s mess, I am truly sorry, but there is no quick fix.

Here are some real life situations I have come across in my practice:

  • Permit never considered
  • Permit applied for, but never purchased.
  • Permit obtained but no inspections requested, no final inspection so no Certificate of Occupancy issued
  • My favorite of all time – very rare.  Permits were obtained and a Certificate of Occupancy issued, but the county had lost the records.  Unfortunately, the burden of proof is with the owner.  In one particular case, my client kept every piece of paper.  I wrote a letter outlining the problem, organized and then enclose copies of all those bits of paper.  Case closed.

LESSON:  Get your permits, follow through with all inspections, get the Certificate of Occupancy and then save everything – for all eternity.