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Orange_County 03-27-2009 11:52 PM

advice/Help on non-permitted bonus room?
Hi everyone, I am very new to all of this. 1st time homebuyer and only moved in 30 days ago. I bought a home with an existing "non-permitted" bonus room. I just received a notice from the city telling me it needs to be demolished or I need to get it permitted within 2 weeks because it was spotted by a code enforcement officer minly because of an unsightly trash pile in the driveway that was also against code. THe trash was what we were hauling out of the home that the previous owners left us. .

Here is the problem. I knew about this problem when I bought the house. I even signed a disclosure saying I understood this problem. The reason I went forward are.

1. that before I put in an offer, I called the city and was put on the phone with an inspector and I told them that I was thinking of buying a home with an existing permit and they told me that in this city, they do not actively look for violations and chances were that if it was there already and nobody complained then I was OK.

2. I talked to the neighbors and friom what they all told me, the room was added on in 1969, 4 owners ago and nobody ever had a problem with it and it has been sitting here for 40 years unbothered.

3. in my price range here in CAlifornia, I looked at hundreds of houses and 99% of them had non-permitted add-on's, but they were all short sales or forclosures. This was the only one I saw in my price range that was a decent house and the owners were not upside down.

Now my problem is that I have spent more money on this house than I had originally planned getting it ready for move in and right after escrow closed, my pay was cut at my long time job. So now I have money to pay the mortgage and money to pay bills and live, but no more money to put into this house whether it be remodling or knocking down the room. If they told me tomorrow that it haad to be knocked down or I had to abandon it, I would have to walk. And if you were to knock this room down, it would leave a large chunk of the wall of the original house open and would need aditional construction to make the house livable after removing the room.

Am I doomed? If I can't afford to comply, what can they oro what will they do to me? What are my options?

Anf FYI, the main reason this cannot be permitted without changes is that the added on room is only 6 inches from the property line in some parts and 2 feet in other parts. City code calls for 3 or 5 feet clearance from the property line. Electrical and exits, insulation and roof are all up to code beause I rewired and re-insulated the bonus room myself before moving in, along with new drywall inside and new sliding glass door. Only problem is the location on the property line.

any help would be appreciated.

Just Bill 03-28-2009 06:12 AM

They say it needs to have a permit or be torn down, that is to scare you into getting a permit. It is very rare, although maybe not in CA, that they will actually make you tear it down. Get the permit, have it inspected, and if there are problems fix them. I can't imagine there are major structural issues if has been there for 40 yrs, which is a good argument if they say otherwise. There is a good chance it will not meet current seismic code, but neither does the house itself. Not sure what you do about that.

Bob Mariani 03-28-2009 06:33 AM

They have the right and may require it to be removed. Any electrical work done without inspections is a big deal, since they cannot inspect hidden wiring. After getting a permit, they will determine what needs to be opened up for inspections to be done. Removing all or some of the drywall may be part of this. To deal with the property clearance issue may be more of a problem. Possible you can apply for a variance, but what your neighbors feel about this will have some effect on this outcome.

Aggie67 03-28-2009 07:35 AM

Talk to the town. Lay your cards out. Check on the history of those property set backs. Could be 40 years ago there weren't any rules. That may be wishful thinking, but it's worth checking.

This should be a lesson to all prospective buyers: ask for the structure's permit history, and get the seller to make corrections or negotiate the price down. When you signed that disclosure, you basically inherited a known problem.

jomama45 03-28-2009 10:21 AM

I was with you on this situation until the last full paragraph. The inspector more than likely looked in the windows & realized the extent of new work done without a permit. You simply compounded your own problem. The original issue (from 1969) was probably easy for you fix with the city, the latter may not be. The city may have rules/ratio in place for repair to non-conforming structures that you bipassed. I know in my area there's a ratio, 50% I believe.

Good luck with this one.

Scuba_Dave 03-28-2009 11:22 AM

I hope you got a good price in view of a non-permitted space
IE I hope the price didn't include that as living space
My last house the former owners at some point built out PAST the property line. The people before me had to buy a slice of land to make the house legal.
Luckily there was only a vacant lot next door
Do you have a house close to that side?

Go in & talk to them about the room & pull the permit
If you want the house get a 2nd job to make extra $$ to do repairs

If that slider is within the 3-5' required clearance then they may make you pull it out. This is a good example of why you need to pull a permit BEFORE doing work. With an inspector it is not always easy to ask forgiveness after the fact

Orange_County 03-28-2009 03:21 PM

Well, as for work done on the room, I think what I did was mainly cosmetic other than the electrical. The room had push up cieling tiles inside that were falling down, so I wanted to just throw up drywall. When we took down the ceilling tiles my friend was there who is an electrician and has been for 25 years. he told me that the wiring in that room was a fire hazard, so he completely reqired it to code. Then we threw some insulation up and drywalled and painted it. We didn;t mess with anythign that was structural.

As for the window, there was an existing sliding window but it was 40 years old and the rollers were shot and it was all rusted out. All I did was pull it out and put in a new vinyl slider.

I did get a good price for the area, the price was below the appraisal, but in CA the market is droppinpg daily so my guess is that while I got it for $20k under market, by the end of the year I will probably be upside down in it anyway. I knew that going in. I was planning on living here for at least 10 years.

But did anyone have any feedback on the question of tear down? If they do tell me I have to tear it down, but I do not have the financial ability to comply then what happens? I would love to get a 2nd job, but unemploymnt here is at 11% and I am lucky to have the job I got. Realistically if they tell me to tear it down, or even make further repairs I just can't do it. What will they or can they do to me then?

Scuba_Dave 03-28-2009 04:22 PM

Only your Inspector can answer the questions you are asking
They can I suppose fine you
Eventually they could force the tear down by hiring someone & putting a lien against your property

I don't think realistically they would do that, but who knows?

Electric, drywall & a new slider are far from cosmetic work

Orange_County 03-28-2009 05:40 PM

I know the electrical isn't cosmetic, but since I brought it up to code I figured that it was actually making things better. If this was not an add on, would you really need a permit to replace and existing slider, drywall a ceiling and rewire the electric? I kind of figured these things are just stuff that as a homeowner you need to replace and repair periodiclaly anyway and didn;t think a permit was necessary unless you were changing somethign structurally.

Daniel Holzman 03-28-2009 06:07 PM

This sounds like an unfortunate situation at best. In my town, you would have needed two very distinct permits for the work. The first would have been a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, because the room was built too clost to a lot line. The building inspector CANNOT issue the variance, it must be issued by the ZBA after a public hearing. I do not know the rules in CA, but those are the rules in MA.

As for the work itself, it was performed without a building permit. This is a wholly separate matter from the failure to conform with lot line regulations. It is hard for me to imagine a building inspector requiring a teardown of properly constructed work simply because no permit was pulled. They would almost certainly want you to pull an after the fact permit, and they could charge you more for after the fact inspections than they would have had they been able to inspect when the walls were open. Sounds like the threat to require you to remove the structure is due to the zoning violation, which will require you to go to the ZBA to request an after the fact variance. Sticky at best.

Scuba_Dave 03-28-2009 06:07 PM

Yes, you need a permit for the electric work
Possibly to renovate the room, all depends upon the area
But especially since an original permit was lacking a permit should have been pulled BEFORE doing any further work
It just makes you look like you are continuing in the footsteps of former owners who failed to pull a permit

Orange_County 03-28-2009 07:02 PM

Great. Thanks everyone. Not what I wanted to hear. Makes me wish I stayed in an apartment. If I didn;t have $45k cash already invested I would walk away right now.

Scuba_Dave 03-28-2009 07:10 PM

It may not be that bad
Before I bought my last house (rough shape) I went to the building Inspector before I bought the house. I asked him of any issues, he had 3. A fridge had to be removed from the yard. The shed had to be moved from the side yard to the back yard. Shed was on the property line, 8' to neighbors house, 3' to my house - fire danger. 3rd was that the prior owners had enclosed an old porch as a room. They then built a new front deck & then tried to enclose that - not happening

I made the Inspector happy after buying the property

Work with the Inspector, explain the situation & apologize for your lack of knowledge in the process

Orange_County 03-28-2009 10:05 PM

thanks scuba. I will try to plead ignorance as a first time buyer, which is true. My only fear is that if the city workers are anything like the DMV, I am screwed. lol

FYI, the reason I did not specifically go looking for permits or anything before I did the work is that like I mentioned in my first post, I called the city before I even bought the hosue. They told me that if it was an existing structure and noboday had said anything about it so far, they said my best bet was to just leave it as is because they (the city) wouldn;t bother me unless a neighbor complained. I am wondering if it was just a set up now looking back. If they would have told me it was going to be a problem, I never would have even bought the house. The reason I am in this position now is because I listened to a city inspectors advice to just ignore the problem.

Orange_County 03-28-2009 10:07 PM

Oh, and scuba one more question. You said that afterwards you "made the inspector happy". How did you do that? Did you have to demo the add on room and everything, or did he just let you slide?

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