Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by James

Posted by Maurice on April 13, 2010 at 08:57:47:

I agree. I just cashed out my last rental property which I bought in 1995.

Now I am in more passive investments like mortgages and stocks.

You may remember me from years ago as GL, GL(ON) or Ganaraska. I even posted as Mister Big for a while.

Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by James

Posted by James on April 06, 2010 at 12:37:26:

I am looking to remodel my kitchen in my own home next week. I found a good contractor and I have seen his work (he did my friend’s kitchen, and my parents flooring) and it is very good. The only thing is that he is not Licensed or Bonded and so I am not getting a permit from the village. I did call the village and they said that I need a permit even if I am doing the work myself.
Here is the thing. I really DO NOT want to get a permit. However, one of the things I am doing is removing an 9ft. long wall that is a Load Bearing Wall. He is replacing it with a Double LVL 22’ x 9 1/2" with plywood core. This is a long beam that would go from one end of my house to another area in the house. That beam would be resting on studs that go all the way into the foundation. There is another home in my neighborhood, exact model as my home, and he had it done 3 yrs ago with no problems.
I trust this guy based on the work I have seen him do, but what happens if my ceiling collapses during the project? My homeowners insurance does not cover me for accidents to the home based on the homeowner doing the work himself.
Would you take the risk or demand that he get insurance and if he can’t use a complete stranger that is lic. and bonded?

Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by John Merchant

Posted by John Merchant on April 08, 2010 at 11:03:44:

  1. A contractor will generally have employees and you want to confirm that those EEs are covered by workers comp.

If you as HO do not, then anybody later claiming to have been his employee and injured (or kolled) on the job will come after(SUE!)you and you might have waived any defenses as per your state law.

  1. When you’re ready to sell you’re going to have to produce Title Ins and that might prove difficult to impossible w/o your having obtained bldg permit NOW.

  2. Any defective or shoddy work now could maul you way down the road…e.g.in WA a few years back a co-ed was killed when the outside attached 2d story deck her little party was on collapsed from under her and it was found the deck had been hastily installed against the house with too-short “lag screws” that pulled out when all the weight from the party guests proved too much for those short screws.

If that HO hadn’t got bldg permit and used a legal, lic & insured contractor when he had the deck built, then HE probably got stuck with legal bills and death claim from the kid’s death.

From years of personal and professional experience I can tell you that NO ins co. is your friend when it comes time to pay or else use any excuses NOT to pay.

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by michaela-CA

Posted by michaela-CA on April 07, 2010 at 09:13:24:


things change from one State/County to another. Some municipalities clamp down more than others.

In the area I’m working in, I’ve usually gotten permits, as I was doing major rehabs of historic homes. Right now I’m not getting permits. I know my carpenter and his expertise. The inspectors can’t keep up anyway. And frankly, I have had problems in that area with the inspector, who is a different skin color and who doesn’t want white people buying houses in so predominantly black neighborhoods. Yes, he’s told me in my face a few years ago :"I won’t let people like you come into this neighborhood and take our houses."
He’s also known in the area for taking payoffs. So, am I going to make a big stink with the city or am I just quietly doing my rehabs?

Also, in this neighborhood they really don’t come down in past permitless improvements.

So, find out from others in your particular neighborhood as to your situation. It can vary greatly.


Some more thoughts … - Posted by Frank Chin

Posted by Frank Chin on April 07, 2010 at 07:40:03:


I did ask a contractor once about pulling a permit or not pulling a permit for a job. I had him upgrade and install a new service entrance, and replace 3 electric meters.

Because the job involved new meters, temporary shunting of utlity wires, I had to pull permits, and that ran me $300.00.

But I didn’t want to rewire immediately, so I deferred that job, had him quote me a rewiring job either with pulling permits or not. He is a licensed and insured electrician. Besides the permit, and inspection costs, I asked him what are the other consequences of NOT pulling a permit for this other job.

He tells me that as far as he knows, if I pulled the permits, got the insepctions done, I’m bullet proof. That means that if he scr#ewed up, my house burns down, people got injured, not only would I be off the hook legally, I would have no problem with my insurance.

On the other hand, he said he heard of cases where insurance companies had denied claims, for property damage. and injured parties had sued owners for negligience on the grounds that permits should be pulled, and inspections done, and it wasn’t.

His take on it is for the price of the permit, I got some insurance.

Now, I see what you’re trying to do, and I have done a similar job in a rehab. However, in my area, from time to time, I read stories about a house collapsing while the load bearing wall is taken down, and new beams installed, for the reason that there were inadequate bracing during the installation.

I hate to be the property owner if that happened, and the insurance company turns around and says “sorry about your collapeed home, you should’ve pulled a permit”.

Frank Chin

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by Frank Chin

Posted by Frank Chin on April 07, 2010 at 06:40:10:


The reason why many places require a permit is to provide the municipality a way to keep up with “assessments” on improvements, so they can collect on more property taxes.

A friend of mine’s wife was complaining about an AC he had in the living room window, they can’t open the windows, so he hired someone to put a sleeve through the wall for the AC. Technically, the job required a permit, but because he felt it was such a small job, that he skipped it.

Fast forward a few years, the town sent people around to check for obvious improvements without permits and cited him for the failure to obtain one, and thus the assessments were not correct, and he had to pay back property taxes with penalties and interest.

I bought the home I lived in, and a prior owner installed a kitchen in the finished basement without permits. Three years went by, city inspectors came around, issued me a citation for having the improvements without pulling permits.

They cite the owners of the property, so I recieved it even though I did not make the improvements.

I had the choice of removing everything, or pull permits, had plans drawn up, and then had it redone to code. I did the latter. The whole project took me over $6,000.

Local towns in the LI, NY area had begun holding up sales of homes because years back, many decks were not built with permits, and also not to code. Folks had to to get permits, tear down and rebuild the decks, and then allowed to sell their homes.

Finally, I found that in some cases, in recent years, appraisers come around comparing room layouts with filed plans, and notify banks if major improvements are made without permits. This is because properties are worth more based on room counts, and illegal conversions would cost banks money if they made mortgage based on illegal conversions, then the new owners are forced to remove the improvements. This is not to mention towns getting after owners for added taxes, and with unreported assessments, taxes are off.

BTW, tearing down walls, or putting walls up affect room counts, and that is the first things these appraisers look for.

Indeed, one of the choices I had for my illegal kitchen was it’s removal.

At least, that’s what’s been happening in my neck of the woods.

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by James - Michigan Investor

Posted by James - Michigan Investor on April 06, 2010 at 12:59:09:

Get better insurance for the few weeks the remodel will be taking place. You will need the 3 month construction insurance…very pricey - most likely 400-550bucks.

If I were doing the remodel, I wouldn’t get the insurance. That’s me. When someone else is involved, get the insurance and have ALL your contracts in order beforehand.


Re: Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by michaela-CA

Posted by michaela-CA on April 08, 2010 at 16:14:45:


curious - what does title insurance have to do with permits? I’ve never had a title company check on permits. They’re only concerned with the succession of title (at least in Georgia) as far as I know, and do not care about any rehab.


Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by Frank Chin

Posted by Frank Chin on April 07, 2010 at 10:33:35:

I also found in the same areas, requirements change over time.

About 30 years ago, in Long Island, NY. permits are required for decks, few people apply for them, and homes were sold with no problems, with such decks. In the last several years, with town budgets way in the red, the state government all but broke (11 billion short this year), they suddenly want to see if there was a permit pulled back in 1975.

I bought a house to flip in 1983, rehabbed it, the buyer fell through, so I held it for as a long term rental. All I had to do in 1983 was hook the sewage system to the town sewers. The sale would have gone through if the buyer didn’t pull out.

Fast forward to 2001, I put it on the market, I heard about all the problems with permits, so I had a realtor recommend a consultant to check it out, if I’m going to run into issues. He pulled the building plans, and found the breezeway was enclosed without permits. Back in 1983 it was not a problem, but in 2001, it was.

I got him to check into the permit issue, but was told that the cement floor under the breezeway had no footings, and I would have to have it fixed. Back in 1983, I could’ve skated away with it, but now I have to have the footings done, permits pulled, and even a “variance” from the zoning board.

I pointed out to the guy that everyone had breezeways enclosed, even the guy across the street, so his answer was, “so then you wouldn’t be turned down because everyone has it”.

From my experience, if you pull permits, have it inspected, signed off on, you are grandfathered as far as future requirements are concerned. If you don’t, requirements change, and you would have to meet the requirements, whatever it is in the future, and it may cost you a fortune.

So, if I was to do something at a long term rental, or my own home, I would go and get permits. If it’s a quick flip, and I can get away with it now, I might skip it.

But a permit DOES NOT MEAN INSURANCE - Posted by James

Posted by James on April 07, 2010 at 16:17:14:

Frank, thanks for the input, but a permit only means that I am “allowed” to do the work by the city. If the house collapses, they said I would need to deal with my own homeowners insurance. Now this is if I am acting as my own general contractor, which I am in this case. I am not doing the work myself, BUT I am supervising the whole project, so I really am my own General Contractor.
My Guy who is doing the work, called me up and encouraged me to get a permit because our town has people driving around looking for work vans and then the permit, and the fine is $500/day if they catch you, so he encouraged me to get a permit.
I went to the city today and applied for a permit, however, on the back of the application, it says that I relieve the City of any liability if anything was to happen, SINCE I am acting as my own General Contractor. I wrote and drew out everything I was going to do to my house and they said the building inspector will look at my drawings and project and call me back in 1 day.
So, getting a Permit DOES NOT MEAN that I am insured if the roof caves in.
Now my guy says he is insured in case that happens. I will get his insurance info before we start.
If I was not acting as my own general contractor, the city says that I would go after his (the contractor) insurance anyway. So what exactly is the city liable? It looks like nothing; am I right?

How did the city know about the improvements? - Posted by James

Posted by James on April 07, 2010 at 16:21:48:

Frank, how did the city know about the improved Kitchen 3 yrs. later?? When I bought my home, I had nobody inspect it from the city, as far as I know. And NO inspectors can just randomly come by your property to inspect it for no reason, right?

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by James

Posted by James on April 06, 2010 at 13:06:31:

I just talked to my contractor and he says that he DOES have insurance. Additionally, if I wanted this Construction insurance, where would I get it?

Re: Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by Frank Chin

Posted by Frank Chin on April 09, 2010 at 06:28:59:

As we discussed, it depends on the issues in your area.

There’s a lot of illegal conversions going on where I am, and with these, no way can you do it with a permit. People have expanded houses, divided up rooms, added bathrooms and kitchens, all with no permits.

In the past, banks had financed these, only to run into big problems when the new owners are found out, and told to remove the conversion, or improvements. Then, owners wind up not able to pay the mortgage, and with these no down deals, just walk away.

Which is why I was surprised I saw an appraiser coming by with floor plans. In my case, I did some major improvements on a 3-family rental where I did it initially without permits. A year before the sale, in preparation, I learned about the problem, I filed permits and then had the work inspected several years after the work was done. There were a few issues, but the big one was the gas pipes I installed were all of the wrong sizes, and I had it redone, meaning ripping out walls, and redoing.

Just redoing the gas pipes wiped out the savings of not filing permits.

I removed a wall between the kitchen and dining room, took out a large closet and made it into a laundry room. Fortunately, I belately filed architectural plans for these.

Where I am, sometimes theres a big backup at the buildings department, and it took almost a year to finally have the “certifcate of completion” issued. Imagine if I had to scramble after signing a RE contract with a buyer, an appraiser comes along, and find the place not in accordance with the filed plans.

Just to add illegal renovations wreak havoc in many other ways. In the older crowed municipalities, they suddenly find sewer systems unable to cope with the added the sewage, electrical grids inadequate, and worst of all, schools unable to handle the big influx of children coming in.

Bottom line is, the sellers of the illegal rehabs walk away with a big pile of cash and a smile on their faces, and the devastated communities are faced with the burdens of inadequate utlities, and schools.

If you were the town officials, you bet you’ll find ways to crack down. After the RE investor walk away, citizens face tax increases for those new schools and roads.

Re: Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by blue206

Posted by blue206 on April 09, 2010 at 24:47:57:

If/when the city bldg dept learns of the un-permitted remodel they could lien the property until that work is redone by permit.

If that happens do you think any title policy could be issued to cover that?

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by michaela-CA

Posted by michaela-CA on April 07, 2010 at 11:02:10:

I’m glad you brought up ‘grandfathering’, as I had meant to mention it, but forgot.

In some areas grandfathering is only a few years and once that time is up, they can’t really go back and require you to undo what’s been done, even if it’s been done without permits.

So, that can also depend on the area. Obviously, it looks as if New York is a lot stricter than the areas that I’ve been working in.


Re: But a permit DOES NOT MEAN INSURANCE - Posted by Keith

Posted by Keith on April 07, 2010 at 17:20:21:

Frank was not implying that the permit gave you insurance he was trying to convey the fact that getting a permit would give any insurance company one less reason to deny your claim in the event anything happened. Insurance companies main objective is to find a reason to deny a claime, without a permit you are potentially giving them an easy reason to do that whether its yours, his or anybody else involved.


Re: How did the city know about the improvements? - Posted by Frank Chin

Posted by Frank Chin on April 10, 2010 at 07:18:58:


I discovered how it came about after I met another inspector doing the “gas” inspection at my rental that I mentioned in my post above.

I recall that inspector did not come to check my particular house, but a complaint about an illegal apartment up the street from me. This inspector I was talking to asked if I had extra doorbells, or mailboxes indicating another unit in the building.

The answer was yes.

The house I live in is a legal two family, and I only had a doorbell by my door, and the tenants unit on the side. However, I installed new mailboxes when I moved in, for myself and for the tenant, but because I subscribe to a lot of magazines, the mailbox was two small, so I installed yet a third larger one.

I was told by this guy that the inspector on the street thought I’m renting out a third illegal unit. I actually have an extra kitchen, which was there, but not using it.

I heard later that complaints got the inspector to the unit down the street, as is often the case, neighbors get angry when illegal units are added, particularly to working couples, and they both have cars taking up parking spaces in front of other peoples homes. Some neighbors would speak to you first out of courtesy, and some call code enforcement right away.

In fact, at the house that I had the complaint about the illegal kitchen, some years later, I hired a licensed contractor to cement part of my back yard, and in the middle of it, the police came by to see if the I had a permit. But by co-incidence, the officer was a friend of the contractor, joked around, and then mentioned that someone on the street called, and told him not to worry.

Another way illegal jobs are discovered is when the contractors tries to dispose of waste material. In the kitchen job I did without a permit, I had walls taken down, with plenty of debris. One tipoff to nosy neigbors is an on site dumpster, so if you do jobs with no permits, dont’ get a dumpster, because sometimes they just sit there if the company you hired is backed up.

My dad did a job, and the dumpster sat there for three long months.

The contractor I used, used to jobs with no permits, keeps containers and boxes of debris in my garage, and when city sanitation trucks come along, (twice a week) he and his helpers rush out, pay the city sanitation men a few dollars, and dump the stuff in themselves. The remainder was taken away at the end by van to the local dump.

I saved the rental on the dumpster, but paid a few dollars in bribes.

Finally, my wife opened the door when the inspector came to my house, he rushed by her, and down the basement. I’ve been told since that she could’ve not allowed him in. Not long ago though, I read in the local papers that the city council was considering stiff fines for owners not allowing inspectors in to check, particulaly when he finds extra mailboxes, doorbells or complaints from neighbors.

BTW, I took down that extra mailbox, so I won’t have unexpected visits.

Re: Home remodeling without permit question - Posted by Sailor

Posted by Sailor on April 06, 2010 at 13:44:26:

Ask to see the policy. Check to make sure he has womkman’s comp for anyone he brings on the property. That’s not being rude, just using common sense. So is getting a permit. To do otherwise is just silly, on top of being dangerous & expensive. Getting a permit is pretty easy, & you may also get good advice for the same small fee.

I’m not sure why you are fighting to keep from protecting yourself & your investment. Oh & BTW–good contractors can go bad as fast as any other, so you need to keep an eagle eye on your $$$ & on the contractor you hire.

Tye (who has made money on the disasters of others who have not pulled permits)

Re: Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by Maurice

Posted by Maurice on April 12, 2010 at 08:46:20:

I agree with you all except the part about walking away from a rehab with a big pile of cash and a smile on their faces.

I have done a few rehabs but they never panned out that well. They always took more time and money than I figured and the profits were meager to non existent.

Do you have any good tips on making big piles of money from rehabs, legal or illegal?

Re: Some legal landmines to watch for - Posted by cork horner

Posted by cork horner on April 09, 2010 at 21:46:07:


Do it.

I’s easy and saves lives. I doesn’t cost any more in the long run. Throw in the legal hassles of unlicensed activity and it gets very messy.

c h
former contractor, builder, remodelor and developer.