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Old 09-08-2008, 03:46 PM   #1
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


I bought a duplex in Virginia that I am renovating with a friend. We are doing EVERYTHING ourselves. We tore out every wall (loadbearing walls we supported with steel posts until they were replaced) and are changing the floorplan. We plan to do all electrical, plumbing, framing ourselves with some oversight from my uncle who is a licensed new construction plumber, a good family friend who has worked as an electrician for years, and another good family friend who is a builder in a nearby town. During demo we had neighbors tell us that there was a city inspecter snooping around. We havent planned on getting any permits in order to save time, money on the permits themselves, all the drawings necessary, and not being sure whether the city would let us do some of the things we wanted to do since we are in a historic disctrict. We both have full time jobs so we only do work after 5pm and on weekends. All of the windows in the house are covered and we havent heard anything from the inspectors since they came a few months ago. We plan to rent this place once we are finished and probably wouldnt sell the house for many many years. Before we sheetrock the walls we plan to make sure that EVERYTHING is done 100% to code.

What is the worst case scenario if we get caught? Is it possible that the inspector knows what is going on and is just waiting for us to finish in order to screw us even more? If we take detailed pictures of EVERYTHING we have done...claim ignorance (we are 24-25 year old kids and I honestly didn't know how many things we needed permits for until just recently) do you think if they can tell things are to code by the pictures they would not make us tear everything out? If they did make us tear everything out would it just be drywall so they could see?

I assume at worst...we get caught towards the end and have to rip out a bunch of drywall and pay 3-4 times the normal permit costs. Is this accurate?

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Old 09-08-2008, 04:59 PM   #2
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


First off, welcome to DIY Chatroom.

Please don't get offended by how frank I'm about to be with you, and please understand that I speak from experience in this matter. I have been a building inspector for a number of years.

You're making a huge mistake, and are setting yourselves up to really get into a lot of trouble. You're avoiding a permit and inspections, which are a process intended to protect YOU and your property.

Yes, the inspector may be a bit of a devious fellow, and may be delaying putting a stop-work order on your job just to make it sting worse. That isn't the way to do it, but if he was there snooping around, he certainly knows you're working in there.

Worst case? Worst case is a stop work order, a citation to appear in district court, and subsequent fines. You'd obviously have to pay for a permit, plans/engineering/ and all that. If your licensed uncle gets caught working in there or overseeing things in a professional capacity, they'll likely appeal his license. I would. You'd certainly have to rip out every sheet of drywall and batt of insulation in the entire structure if I caught you, and I'm no different than most jurisdictions. Then how much money are you saving?

You need to re-think your little process, because you're skipping a big step. You're not doing yourself any favors by skipping the process. You're certainly not doing your future tenants any favors, as I would be willing to bet that you're not well versed in fire separation, structure, electrical, etc.

My suggestion is to stop now, go to city hall, and beg for forgiveness. Ignorance won't get you too far, just admit the mistake. Everyone claims ignorance to the building codes, and codes officials don't buy it.

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Old 09-09-2008, 07:58 AM   #3
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


Do it right the first time, and as thekctermite says don't do the "ignorance thing." You've played your hand by showing you know enough to support load bearing walls and have started the project, if your THAT ignorant you should stop the project immediately. It would be to your advantage to get the permits before the city asks for them.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather spend time on the reno than with city hall.
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Old 09-09-2008, 08:36 AM   #4
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First off, thanks for your response. It was very detailed and much appreciated.

Like I said in my post. Everything will be done 100% to code. I'm kind of a perfectionist. Most things I see done that meets code never seems to be enough to me and in many cases there are safer, stronger ways for it to be done. Because of this pretty much everything I do will probably considerably exceed what is required by code. Also, everything that I do will be thoroughly looked at by people who are very familiar with code requirements to make sure that everything is sufficient. Because of this, the safety of my future tenants as well as my knowledge in fire separation, structure and electrical is a non-issue. (I am a computer engineer, I build hardware as well as circuit boards. Wiring the house is not going to be an issue.) The only thing that will be affected is the paperwork.

I'm not trying to convince you that I should be doing what i'm doing. I realize I am in a bind here and just trying to figure out what is best for my situation. I was told that the inspector could only post a stop work order if they can actually see that you're doing work without a permit. Is this true? Is the homeowner allowed to do any and all work themselves as long as they have permits and inspections? My main concern is having to hire people to do a lot of things. Right now I can only afford to pay for materials. If I come clean to the city and they have many many demands...this could end in foreclosure. I understand you being an inspector your answer is always going to be to do it all by the books and I respect that. If doing it by the books at this point puts me into foreclosure, trying to get it done on my own is worth the risk. Thanks again.
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Old 09-09-2008, 09:28 AM   #5
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


Quote:
Originally Posted by tnis0612 View Post
Because of this, the safety of my future tenants as well as my knowledge in fire separation, structure and electrical is a non-issue. (I am a computer engineer, I build hardware as well as circuit boards. Wiring the house is not going to be an issue.) The only thing that will be affected is the paperwork.
No one is saying what your trying to accomplish is outside your skill level. IF down the road something fails and caused injury or death, you will be held personally responsible. Crying "new kid on the block didn't know any better" will get you no where. If it's permitted and inspected at least you can prove that it meet standards at the time of construction.


Quote:
Originally Posted by tnis0612 View Post
I was told that the inspector could only post a stop work order if they can actually see that you're doing work without a permit. Is this true?
KC will know...but I don't believe this to be true.

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Originally Posted by tnis0612 View Post
Is the homeowner allowed to do any and all work themselves as long as they have permits and inspections?
Depends on the are where you live. In the county I live in, one town will not allow any HO work on new construction, reno's are allowed with permits and inspections. In the rural part of the county any building is allowed with permits and inspections. I choose the rural life.

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My main concern is having to hire people to do a lot of things. Right now I can only afford to pay for materials. If I come clean to the city and they have many many demands...this could end in foreclosure.
Your project sounds pretty tight. No one here will be turning you in, and we all wish you the best. I'm a little concerned about this last comment compared to the first part, where you say that you over build and everything will be to code, then you're worried about the demands of the city. Typically they enforce the code which is usually the minimum safety/structural standards. If they require engineering stamps for the load bearing wall you removed...can you really can't blame them? You have to assess the level of risk you're willing to assume. Would you rather this project in foreclosure or possibly loose everything you have?

Have you thought about making a call to the permit/inspections office and asking them questions you have? Don't tell them what you have done or the property address in question. Ask about the cost of the permits for the scope of a reno project like you're doing. Ask if engineering stamps required, if so when. Do they require separate permits for HVAC, plumbing, elec. and at what interval will the inspections be performed. Are there expenses associated with inspections? (in our county you could have as many as you want, no addtional cost. When I built a year ago we had 1. builiding, 2. framing, 3. Mechanical (included HVAC/plumbing/elec) Along the way though you had to have inspections at given intervals, like before the rock wen on you better have the rough in elec and plumbing done.)

I can't tell you how many calls I made when I was building just to see what they were going to look for at different stages, which fortunately for us it was all straight forward and our inspectors were great to work with.
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Last edited by RippySkippy; 09-09-2008 at 09:32 AM.
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Old 09-09-2008, 10:03 AM   #6
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


Rippy,

Thanks for all the advice. The first poster did elude to the fact that I wasnt well versed in fire separation, structure, electrical which is the only reason I made that comment.

My project isnt very tight as far as budget goes but as you well know labor can be more expensive than materials and in some cases 2-3 times as expensive. This is where my budget goes out the window. I'm not at all concerned about the city enforcing code, I completely expect that. I'm worried about them making me tear down things that are done correctly just out of spite. I would like to assume that they woudlnt make me tear things down that they can see are up to code, but I have heard people say they can and do although I don't see why.

I am definitely considering calling the city and just telling them that I am considering buying a house to do all of these things to and ask for details of the whole process. I think that will help me greatly in deciding what to do. If I do decide to continue on I know I will have some serious thinking to do before I put up the drywall. Thanks to both of you for your help.
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Old 09-09-2008, 11:12 AM   #7
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


I can only speak of my state, but a homeowner is allowed to to anything to their home, as long as you have the proper permits. When it comes to mulitidwellings, then a homeowner can not do any work because of the saftey of the other tenets.
Any work must be contracted.
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Old 09-09-2008, 12:34 PM   #8
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


If you are working on a structure in a Historic District without a submitted and approved plan, you could be committing a serious violation of city codes or ordinances. They could require you to restore the building to it's original condition and configuration. On top of that they could fine you big. That depends, of course, on how the historic preservation codes are written in the community and to what historical standard structures are being held. My experience has been that most communities that have historic districts also have community watchdogs to prevent the exact thing you are doing. The fact that you do not plan to reside in the structure will certainly not help your case.
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Old 09-09-2008, 02:49 PM   #9
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I can only speak of my state, but a homeowner is allowed to to anything to their home, as long as you have the proper permits. When it comes to mulitidwellings, then a homeowner can not do any work because of the saftey of the other tenets.
Any work must be contracted.

Same here, this being a rental property is only making your case worse for you.
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Old 09-09-2008, 03:36 PM   #10
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even though it's a duplex with no tenants and there were no tenants when I bought it? Also there are joint owners so who's to say one of us wont live in one unit and one in the other? Could we still not do the work ourselves?
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Old 09-09-2008, 04:17 PM   #11
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


LOL ...at the OP's last post...

Try it.... bring in the deed, showing joint ownership... you will need this to get your Notice of Commencement. "Oh what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive."

Do you have a cousin that is a Project Manager for a bank? He doesn't like to follow the rules either.

In Florida if you try to ignore the red tags and the permit process... they cut the power off to your house. Fines can double daily....Child welfare comes to visit... and then it starts to get really bad....
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Old 09-09-2008, 06:23 PM   #12
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Bigbob I'm not really sure what anything in that post means. In my last post I simply asked the rules for doing work yourself on a duplex. Not sure what about that was funny. Also not sure what a bank has to do with anything. My fines aren't going to double because I haven't been caught yet. If I do get caught I will obviously fully comply. Until then I'm going to try to figure put the best thing to do.
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Old 09-09-2008, 06:48 PM   #13
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Bigbob I'm not really sure what anything in that post means. In my last post I simply asked the rules for doing work yourself on a duplex. Not sure what about that was funny. Also not sure what a bank has to do with anything. My fines aren't going to double because I haven't been caught yet. If I do get caught I will obviously fully comply. Until then I'm going to try to figure put the best thing to do.

Don't you think you should have investigated this INFO before you started work? I mean, really, is it that hard to play by the rules, if you pulled that stunt around here, heads would certainly roll.
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Old 09-09-2008, 06:51 PM   #14
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The city can post a stop work order based on suspicion of the work going on, and can request entry. In most cities, entry can be demanded without a warrant. In all other cities, a warrant can be obtained to gain entry.

Most cities also have the capacity to issue fines. If not paid, the property owner can easily end up in court. Typically, if the fines aren't paid, they're tacked onto the property taxes. I've seen one guy go to jail for doing exactly what you're doing...But he ignored the judge's order to stop, as well as later orders to bring it into compliance.

Subdividing a single family house into a duplex is often ok, but is often in violation of the property's zoning.

Where you could really get screwed is years down the road when you and a tenant have a disagreement and you evict them, and they call the city to report a rental housing violation (no heat, mold, etc). Happens all the time, even to the best landlords, and the city is required to check it out. You're guaranteed to have to deal with this at that time, and it won't be fun.

You're taking an incredible amount of liabilitiy. I assure you that if there is ever a problem (fire, etc), the city inspector will be called. He'll be quick to let the lawyers and insurance people know that you never had a permit. You'll have no proof of yours and your friends apparent code knowledge at that time, and won't have the city in your corner saying that it was code compliant when the work was done.

ANONYMOUSLY call city hall. Ask to speak to the building official (the codes boss). Tell them your situation, let them know that you want to make it right, but are concerned about your financial well-being and having tons of penalties imposed. Tell them you want to work with them to make things right, and they'll probably shoot you straight.

If you aren't willing to do that, good luck to you. Sooner or later you'll probably need it!
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Old 09-10-2008, 12:00 AM   #15
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Advice from someone familiar with code enforcement/permits


Maybe I'm slow because I don't get why you won't just get a permit. You say you're doing everything to code so what's the problem? It's cheaper to pay the cost for the permit upfront than to pay more in fines when they stop you're job, especially if you're on a tight budget. The license contractor that's working the job is taking a big risk. Seems like you got the right answer over and over again but it's not the one you want to hear, so why ask if you've already made of your mind?

Get A Permit!
P.S. You never know when you may want or need to sell. S**t happens.
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