The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: My house has street parking only, with no room for a driveway on either side. Most of my neighbors park on their front lawns, which is illegal and which downgrades the look of the neighborhood. In a nicer part of town, I saw a home with elegant front yard parking, paved with turf blocks and enclosed by an iron gate. I want to copy this parking arrangement, but the building department refuses to issue a permit, even though this would improve the appearance of the area. They say off-street parking is not allowed, even though everyone else is already doing it. I’ve decided to go ahead with the project without a permit. Could this cause a problem when I sell the property? Darin
Dear Darin: Lack of adequate parking in a residential neighborhood is a problem for property owners, tenants, and visitors. Failure of your local building department to recognize a practical solution is not a credit to their good judgment or their obligation to serve the needs of the community. They would do well to judge a permit request on its specific merits, rather than blindly impose the strict letter of the law, to the benefit of no one.
If you proceed with your parking project without a permit, you may or may not encounter problems with the building department. In most cases, work of this kind, where actual building construction is not involved, goes unnoticed, and many homeowners make such improvement without even considering a permit in the first place. However, the bureaucrats do have authority, and it is within their power to make you undo the improvement if they are so inclined. What’s more, they’ve already demonstrated an unwillingness to apply common sense to a reasonable proposal. In situations of this kind, the possibility of bureaucratic interference should not be dismissed, but the odds against it are probably in your favor.
As for potential problems when you sell the property, your only obligation is to disclose that the parking area was built without a permit. Most buyers willing accept such conditions, but some may not.