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House_Amuck 03-27-2007 02:51 PM

Contractor Failed to Get Required Permits--What now?
We are at the end of a job, just a few minor details and the job will be finished, and we discovered neither the contractor nor his subs took out any work permits for work done on our project. It was a complete gut and remodel for a bath. The joists in the floor were sistered since a couple of them were compromised by a plumber's cut-in in the 1920's when the house was built. No walls were moved and only one fixture, the sink, was moved (only a few feet away). We did have electrical added--two circuits added to our circuit box for a bathroom fan and GFCI receptacle. Other than that it was a replacement of what was orginally there.

We had asked the contractor if permits were needed, on two different occasions (my husband asked him at one point, me at another). He told my husband no permits were necessary due to it being a replacement of what was already there. When I asked him re: permits he said "my sub contractors are responsible for their own inspections" or something like that. Anyway, overall our impression was if inspections or permits were needed, they would be gotten. (But in large part, they weren't needed, according to the contractor.)

This contractor is licensed and had appropriate insurances, etc. Is even a member of the BBB. We had no reason NOT to trust him (although now I see how naiive we've been.) The sub installed an exhaust fan that was not to codes so we became suspicious about what else was not up to par?...that's when we checked to see if permits would have been needed for our job and were horrified that they were needed, but not obtained.

We still owe the contractor the last installment (1/3) but aren't sure if we should try to use this as leverage to help us get things right. We want to do the right thing and report that appropriate permits weren't obtained--but then we are shooting ourselves in the foot since WE will be fined (up to $1000 I think, not sure if that is for each offense) and may be asked to open up walls to determine correctness of installation (and then we'd need help closing them again.). If we do nothing, this could bite us later when we sell the home (if the buyer wants to see a building permit for work done, which they would have the right to do.) So we don't know what to do. We had the best intentions and did not mean to have work done that was not compliant with local building laws. But still, this will likely fall down on us since we are the property owners (with our ignorance being no excuse.)

Has anyone else been in this predicament? We don't know what we should do. It would be nice if our city had some sort of advocate that could help homeowner's in our predicament. Instead, any inquiries provoke interrogations re: what is the property address?, etc. which scares us since we don't know what we'll be getting into if we tell them. As it is we want to come forward and expose this contractor's bad practices, but don't know if we can afford to do so.

Any feedback?

(Renovated by a Schmuck)

KUIPORNG 03-27-2007 02:59 PM

To make you feel better, I think a large number of home owner renovated their home without permit... doesn't mean this is right... but I think this is reality....

mikemy6 03-27-2007 04:48 PM

my contracts denote who will be pulling the permits, The reason I say this is beacause contractors get alot of this I told you or my husband told you. It seems to me you are now experts in codes,there are grandfather rules that may apply and he may totally be right. I would make a small list of any flaws let him finish and pay him. If you are not willing to go to your inspector you may be suspect, sorry but thats how I feel ,I make money off my jobs I dont want to screw anyone and I dont want to it happen to me.

AtlanticWBConst. 03-27-2007 06:43 PM

My first thought. Obviously, he doesn't want to pull a permit, he's tried very hard not to pull a permit....But WHY?

There must be a reason why....

Either his license is no good anymore, or he stepped on some toes in your town and is not supposed to be doing work there....

I am concerned about the permits not being pulled. In my state, the GC is held liable for pulling the permit, if the home owner does not try to get it.

I feel that he is liable for the building permit. Plumbers and electricians can pull their own for the job.
If any charges arise from this...he should pay it, especially since he provided incorrect information ...telling you that you did not need a permit.

House_Amuck 03-27-2007 11:22 PM

As a follow-up, we decided not to hold the 1/3 out as leverage. We paid him what we owe him to this point and only held out what was appropriate until finish of job (there are still a few small things--tiles to be installed, etc.) I want to assume this guy wouldn't want to screw us over, and I certainly don't want to do that to him or anyone else.

That said, we are still mad about the permit issue but feel a bit between a rock and a hard place.

I did check his home improvement licensure and his sub's licensure and they were both up to date. I also checked their state complaint records and nothing there. Also no hits on BBB.

My feeling is that most people take a "don't ask don't tell" attitude toward what their contractors do. I guess we are the exception in that we just wanted it done "right" and we probably pay a little closer attention to what's being done, and not done, than other people. I guess.

Re: another issue about him I posted in another thread (he installed an exhaust fan that wasn't ducted to the outside, but to our attic instead)--one of his references I called before hiring him said she also had a fan that "did not require outside venting." Same thing he told us. Which tells me that he is doing his "thing" all over the city and no one is really calling him on it. Not sure why.

oldgoat 03-28-2007 01:35 AM

I think you need to do some talking with someone down at the permit office. I would think that there is a fair chance that you were suppose to have a permit and I don't believe that a bathroom exhaust fan is suppose to exhaust to the attic. Also if no permit was pulled and therefore no inspection you are also leaving yourself open on a insurance claim, if God forbid, something happens and the insurance company claims that it was because of the work that was done. Also in my state at least when you sell you have forms that you have to fill out that you have to state if work was done with permits or not. If the contractors were suppose to be responsible for the permits then they should pull them. I'm not sure though that in all states that is the case though. I think in some that in the end in some cases the homeowner still is responsible for making sure that the permit is there. I'd be more interested in covering my tail for work that I paid for than the contractor.

AtlanticWBConst. 03-28-2007 06:30 AM

House amuck,

I don't know where you live, but I can virtually guarantee that this job should have been permited.
In my area, we have done the same exact work on bathrooms ('replacements') - and checked and confirmed in each town we did projects like it = permit required.

Even this week we are doing a water damage repair on a multi unit dwelling - inspector said; "Every time a wall is opened up, I want a permit pulled". Granted, that is extreme, but you get my point in regards to the majority of permit least in most US areas...

KUIPORNG 03-28-2007 08:23 AM

vent to attic definitely not a good idea I believe as you want to reduce moisture inside the attic rather than increase... as a general rule I saw somewhere in this forum...

mt232 03-28-2007 10:05 AM

My understanding is that your local building dept works for you and is there to protect you. I'm not a contractor, but as a volunteer firefighter, I have seen first-hand where poor and illegal work has caused fires, and I know we have few fires because our building dept is strict to code. All our permits say "Do not pay your contractor until all inspections are complete" I believe those large fines are for people trying to knowingly get around the laws, if you call them asking for guidance and help, they will help you have your job completed safely.

AtlanticWBConst. 03-28-2007 05:57 PM


Originally Posted by mt232 (Post 38679)
My understanding is that your local building dept works for you and is there to protect you. I'm not a contractor, but as a volunteer firefighter, I have seen first-hand where poor and illegal work has caused fires, and I know we have few fires because our building dept is strict to code. All our permits say "Do not pay your contractor until all inspections are complete" I believe those large fines are for people trying to knowingly get around the laws, if you call them asking for guidance and help, they will help you have your job completed safely.

This is how I view it...

....If you do good work, there should be no reason to be afraid of having an Inspector check it....

House_Amuck 03-28-2007 06:04 PM

Mike, I'm not sure what you meant about "you will be suspect." Suspect for doing or not doing what? We'd feel better if we could have had everything inspected and would prefer that the permits had been pulled. We hesitate to report ourselves since we, the homeowners, are now responsible and will be fined accordingly. We would be willing to pay that, even though it's very scary to wonder how much that could be, ($1000? $2000?) but the other consequence is that the government inspectors would need to open up the job in order to inspect it. Basically a demo, inspect, and redo. A horrifying thought. Especially since who would be responsible for the redo would be a contractor that now hates our guts for being a PITA.

Another poster said the building department is here to help us. When we called to inquire what we should do, the person who answered the phone immediately became accusatory and demanded to know our address, which scared us so much we panicked and refused to give it. I had hoped for an understanding ear, since my view of it is that we are very honest people who tried our damndest to do this right--hired a state licensed contractor who is a member of the BBB--asked him if we needed permits, he said at one time "no, it's a repair" and at another time "my contractors inspect their own work." We trusted him, stupidly, and did not pursue this. The woman at the building department though was not sympathetic at all and had a more disinterested "ignorance is no excuse" attitude. I personally think this is counter-productive since if I were this government office, I would want to encourage reporting of unpermitted jobs, however they may come in.

We live in Maryland.

AtlanticWBConst. 03-28-2007 06:22 PM


If you want to speak to someone who will be able to give you the right and ask to speak to a building inspector...
However, he too, will want to know the address...

....If you present your self as the 'unknowing victim', so to speak, he shouldn't take things out on you....(I feel that you were not to blame because you looked into it and are obviously looking into it by calling him) Your point of calling is your desire to do what's required by the town - that is good.

Believe it or not, their are some very reasonable inspectors out there who really do help home owners out a great deal, and sympathize with their dilemmas...

mikemy6 03-29-2007 02:47 PM

Thanks A B, thats what I meant if you dont confront this problem then you may be considered (suspect) instead of an unknowing victim. I dont want to sound like a jerk but I did. Maybe I am!

House_Amuck 03-29-2007 04:46 PM

I didn't think you sounded like a jerk, I was just interested in what you meant. You've got a point, and we hadn't really been looking at it that way (since we aren't dishonest) so it is helpful to get your perspective.

Wouldn't an upfront GC ask the homeowner "where are the permits," before starting, if they had expected the homeowner to get them and he knew they were necessary? The burden is a little more on the GC I think, than on us. (We wouldn't have even had a clear idea what permits to get!)

I certainly will NEVER make this mistake again and feel like a total dupe. :huh:

mikemy6 03-30-2007 02:31 AM

Hi House
Well, I would, If needed, and this might sound wierd, but for my own protection also I bill or pay for this service (permits). Let's see what makes this guy a sch**ck, he sisterd some joists that had been undercut, who's that hurting? Moved the sink,if he moved the drain,water, pretty sure needs permit. Ok the biggie 2 new circuits permit and electrcians #. sounds about 70% Sch**ck. The burden was on the GC now its your turn what will you do 1 nothing let him go on his merry way. 2 get up and get right. Its your house and your phone # and also your call. you sound almost embarrassed please dont.
I dont feel as you have made a mistake you've just got alot of hard choices to make.

Best of luck
Mike the jerk

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