Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: What would be the consequences of improving our home without a building permit? The work to be done would include altered plumbing, new siding, new roofing, removing the electric water heater from the outside, installation of a propane water heater on the inside, repairing a sagging ceiling, replacing some windows, and adding an air conditioning system. We’re presently in disagreement as to whether permits are even required for this work and are wondering what we should disclose to buyers when the house is eventually sold. What do you advise? Gaye

Dear Gaye: Your list of proposed improvements and alterations is formidable and, according to the building code, most would require permits. Conducting work of this kind without permits exposes you to legal and financial consequences of several kinds, and these could be magnified by allowing the work to be done by someone who is not a licensed contractor.
If a qualified contractor were to perform the construction without a permit, the majority of the work could be expected to comply with code requirements, even though it would not be legal. But the lack of permits would have to be disclosed to future buyers, and this could significantly affect the marketability of the home. Some buyers would see this situation as a “red flag” and might demand that an as-built permit be obtained from the building department.

With an as-built permit, the municipal inspector could demand removal of drywall to enable inspection of the framing, wiring, plumbing, etc. Costly repairs could be mandated by the inspector, and this might include restoration of the building to its original state.

If a buyer agrees to take the property as-is, even with full disclosure of the nonpermitted work, future discovery of faulty conditions could lead to legal problems, possibly even a lawsuit.

If the proposed work is done by a handyman, rather than a contractor, the likelihood for any or all of the above consequences could be significantly increased. For these reasons, it is strongly recommend that the proposed work be done by licensed contractors and with all of the permits required by law.