Regret working with no permits - now what?

Closed Thread

Old 04-18-05, 03:22 PM
Visiting Guest
Posts: n/a
Regret working with no permits - now what?

Hello all. Just found this forum and think it's great, Thanks!. But some posts made me worried about being in the middle of finishing my basement with no permits. Here is where I am.

Basement full bath roughed in, tub / shower installed, DWV tied into waste line, concrete backfilled. Had to relocate electric HWH about 6 feet. All plumbing copper.

Rewired some existing lighting added pot lights and other overheads. Added four new circuits for outlets and switches only.

Framed and insulated perimeter walls (no weight bearing walls). Framed out bath and kind of a hall way connecting two main rooms.

Hung half of the dry wall -- ceiling and walls.

All my friends said I would be nuts to get permits for this. I am very careful to learn what I am doing before jumping in, but in reading some posts I think I was really crazy to listen to my buddies.

My question is: What do I do now? Confess and call the county permit office? Will I have to tear everything out? Pay fines? Or should I just keep going and hope for the best?

Thanks for any / all advice.

Sponsored Links
Old 04-18-05, 03:33 PM
Doug Aleshire's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: United States
Posts: 4,680

If you have read some of the postings, you should do the right thing. Choice is yours. Sometimes friends just don't help, even though they may be sincere.

Read this, this may help, I hope.

Pulling a permit or not, is not the question that should not be asked. For anyone suggesting that you don't need one, are they really helping you or hurting you? The question should be why not pull a permit?

Most common reason I hear to not to get a permit - " I don’t want my taxes to go up!?” In the same breath they say "the improvements will increase my property value". How can it if you haven't done it legally? No record, no increased property value! This excuse seems to make the homeowner make the wrong choice and they do the work without a permit. Is this right? It is not.

The other is the offer by a Licensed Contractor or unlicensed who says, "You don't need a permit besides we can offer you a better deal without it". Is this legal? It is not. Are you going to trust them just because it "might" save you a few dollars? Are you sure they are licensed? Don't they realize that if a licensed contractor is caught doing work without a permit can be penalized by State law? Those who care about their business and are legally licensed will not make such an offer. Do they even have the necessary insurance while they are working on your project? Are they going to be responsible for anything that is wrong after they leave? Are you really willing to pay for the work twice? Are these enough issues to think about?

Homeowners Insurance becomes an issue. In the event of a loss, obviously your improvements that were done without a permit will not be covered. If you unable to validate any improvements made, legally, you will have problems. Once an adjuster sees that there was work that was done without a permit or through a licensed contractor, he just may deny the entire claim. Not knowing what other work may have been done and never got inspected you could be facing a major problem. Investing in a $50 or $500 permit is a minor item when it relates to a home whether it is $75,000 or $500,000! Why risk it?

Selling the home down the line...there is a form that must be filled out by the seller’s “Disclosure Statement” which will cover anything and everything that is documented on the life cycle of the home including “your projects”. They might involve something minor or something that should have had a permit. Lenders may deny your buyer's loan because of no permits obtained due to the liability that could jeopardize the integrity of their “collateral”. Not disclosing the items is a violation of the law and you can be subject to civil or criminal actions that will just ruin your day. What you think you can get away with now will haunt you later, I guarantee it!

“Reduced sale price of home” could be a real issue. Most properties sold now may be subject to state-licensed Home Inspection Services. These services are excellent as they go into attics, crawl spaces, extremely thorough. All questionable areas are noted on their reports. These may be required within your state or within a specific county or municipality. These can be mandated by the Lender regardless of state/local requirements. In some cases, they can be requested by the Buyer. Lenders may not even approve a loan if permits were not obtained. You may have to take a $20,000 or $30,000 hit for an example on the sales price of the home! Can you afford this? More and more buyers are hiring a private home inspector due to those that fail to get permits when required. Failure to allow the inspection on behalf of the prospective buyer surely will not be in your best interest. These inspections will involve everything on the home to include all structural and mechanical systems. Everything must meet the “current local codes”. Some have said that Home Inspectors are not that great and can't know everything. I have a contractor who does inspections as a side business. They will go through a 16 page report -they list all issues. They must maintain continuing ed credits and are evaluated twice a year. When they do this for the buyer, you already know what will happen.

What happens if I get caught without a permit? You might have to pay double fees for the permit plus possibly a code compliance inspection fee, plus .... You may indeed have to remove any improvements that were done without permits and trust me, they can do it!

So if you want to increase the value of your home, ensure the safety of those who reside in it, and enjoy the comforts until you move on, obtaining a permit is the best option all around.

Hope this helps!

Last edited by Doug Aleshire; 04-18-05 at 03:45 PM.
Old 04-18-05, 05:14 PM
Group Moderator
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: NC, USA
Posts: 19,316
I may be one of the few people who support building codes. After years of working on houses built without codes I have learned to appreciate them. The codes help insure that you get a home with a certain level of safety (roof won't collapse, you wont get electrocuted in the kitchen or bath...). The codes also help insure that your house is constructed so it can be maintained in the future (crawl space large enough to work on your furnace, clean-outs for drain lines, junction boxes for electrical connections...).

In my county building permits have been about 1% of the project cost. Not too expensive for the benefits provided (safety, insurability, resale value...).

I built my own home 3+ years ago and I have just started a garage addition. I am not a professional builder or contractor so the codes were a good guideline as to what should be done. Whenever I had problem with the codes the guys/gals in my Inspections Dept. were helpfull answering my questions. I never felt that their job was to "catch" or "punish" me, they just wanted me to follow the rules in the code book.

For your basement project I would get the permits. Walk into the Inspections Dept., be friendly and professional, tell them what you have done, tell them you realized you made a mistake and want to do it right, pay the fees (aka: taxes), and get on with life. Most locales allow a homeowner work on their own home without licenses (electrical, plumbing...) so you may be OK, as far as that goes. The inspectors will want to verify that the work done so far is to code and they will of course verify that your future work it to code.
Old 04-18-05, 08:55 PM
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Arlington, WA
Posts: 9,238

Let me start out with this -- if it needs a permit, you pull one. End of that discussion.

Read CAREFULLY what Doug and Pilot Dane posted.

From your description of what you have done, there is no doubt that it required a permit where I'm at. But take that with a grain of salt -- where are YOU at, and what does your local bldg. dept. require permits for?? WHAT can be done without a permit becomes an issue of what the local bldg. dept. says needs a permit. Some folks have posted in here that they can pretty much rebuild their house without a permit being needed in THEIR jurisdiction. Having never lived or worked in THEIR jurisdiction, I won't argue with them. Where I live, technically and legally, I need to pull a permit to replace a water heater. There's only one contractor in the County that I'm aware of who goes that far -- and no, it's not me!! (I'll take my chances on that one.)

Before you go any farther on the project, go ask your bldg. dept. At this point, the WORST they can do is charge you dbl. fees, a code compliance inspection fee, and make you open things up so that they can see what you have done, and make you fix it or remove it if it's not right. But, if you walk in willingly, I'm betting the 1st two things will be waived, and, as long as they aren't finding major mistakes, I doubt that you'll be tearing much out.
Old 04-19-05, 12:04 PM
Visiting Guest
Posts: n/a
Many thanks for all your advice. I will take the hit now and pull permits instead of getting hit worse later..

Old 04-26-05, 06:17 AM
trance's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: usa
Posts: 406
Here's another idea:

firstly, the first round of inspections is rough inspections. This means no drywall up yet, no fixtures installed yet (except tub).

You COULD pull the permits, take down drywall & fixtures & get your roughs just like normal.

Or, you can pay the fines & work with the building dept. They may make you take down the drywall anyway, etc...
Old 05-13-05, 09:55 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 67
if it were me, i would NOT pull a permit. I would hire a professional to double check everything i did that i am not very good at (electric, hvac).

if you think obtaining a permit will guarantee a better product, you are very, very mistaken. anyone who works in construction knows better than that.

the only way to guarantee a better product is to build it that way.

I dont buy everything Doug Aleshire warns of either. Most of that sounds like scare tactics to me, and i cant help but wonder what his motives are.
Old 05-14-05, 05:36 AM
Doug Aleshire's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: United States
Posts: 4,680

Whether you believe what has been said or not, that is your position. What you stated is absolutely incorrect and warrants a respectful rebuttal.

Fact is this,

Publicly second-guessing, harassing, embarrassing and or ridiculing, etc. the Administration, Super Moderators, Moderators and or Members is both prohibited. Any of which may be grounds for member banning or a Moderator suspension or banning.

Posts that interject non beneficial generic conversational communications with the sole intent to disrupt the content of a thread and or intended to increase a post count and or making no helpful contribution to any discussions in a thread are prohibited.

It is the position of that we do not recommend that a member performing such tasks, which do require a permit, as required by most muncipalities, to do so without obtaining one. That is a violation of the Law.

Your implication that I have or am providing scare tactics is an indication that you do not have the experience as a professional in this area. Especially in a public Forum that has concerns for its members and the courtesy to "warn" of the implications in those areas that could cause undo damage to them personally or from a structural standpoint. Hiring a professional is good advice but they must obtain a permit for doing such work. For the Owner not to obtain a building permit when others must is asking for trouble. It's not an issue of who can do the work better but that the work has been inspected and recorded for the purposes that I mentioned before. Getting a permit doesn't mean you will get quality work nor was it implied as such. Getting one ensures the work being done will be Code compliant.

The motive on my part is to be informative of the "real world" issues that face many homeowners. That is my job on the Forum and in the "real world". Failure to advise on such costly mistakes would be a disservice to our members. This Forum provides the best information, far none, over any on the Internet. If you cannot understand the need for such information which doesn't agree with your personal thoughts and a disregard for compliance with State and Local Building codes, do not post any content at all.

Thank You for your cooperation
Old 05-14-05, 05:17 PM
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Arlington, WA
Posts: 9,238

We can agree to disagree, and as long as the discussion is kept professional and civil, that's fine.

Nobody is saying that obtaining a permit and going through the inspections "will guarantee a better product". That's not what permits and the inspections are all about. What it will guarantee is that the work done is up to current codes, and that is at least 95% a safety issue.

Hiring a pro to check your work (if you can find one who would agree to do that) means nothing. All he or she would be doing would be taking your money. Their testimony or attesting to what they saw would amount to absolutely zero with the bldg. official.

I don't know what part of the things Doug has said are the ones you won't buy. Every one of them is absolutely true. And I won't do a customer the disservice of offering to do the work without a permit when one is required. They can't afford it and neither can I!!
Old 05-15-05, 12:37 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Tujunga, CA, USA
Posts: 209
Hi Lefty, Doug and everyone else,

I have to respectfully disagree with some of Doug's comments. Don't get me wrong, I think permits are a good thing and I wish there was a better mechanism in place to insure permits were obtained when required. It is just some of Doug's comments were not pertinent to the permit issue.

One is that Doug inferred that a contractor who does work with out a permit does not care about his business. I disagree. I know several good contractors who sometimes do work without permits. It is not the cost of the permit that makes them unattractive; it is the labor involved in obtaining one. In some areas around here, a permit can easily add three hours labor to a one hour job. Adding an electrical outlet, installing a replacement window, and changing a water heater may require a permit. In this area, the contractor who pulls a permit whenever required can not compete on small jobs.

He also inferred that a contractor that does not pull a permit may not be properly insured. Obtaining a permit has nothing to do with a contractor's insurance. In California, a licenced contractor is not required to have liability insurance (he's probably stupid not to have it). Here, he only needs to be bonded and if he has employees he needs workers' comp insurance.

Doug asked if the contractor is going to be responsible for anything that is wrong after he leaves the job. Again, I don't know what this has to do with permits. If anything, it would be easier to sue an unlicensed contactor doing work without a permit. A licensed contactor may have to explain problems to the the licensing board. A permit with inspections insures that the job meets the minimum saftey requirements.

Doug said that most properties sold need a state licenced home inspection. How many states even have state licensing for home inspectors and what are there qualifications. This is a sore subject with me. I think there needs to be better regulations in this area. Around here, all you need to be a home inspector is a business license.

He also made it seem as though a home going through a home inspection at the time of sale will need to meet current codes. I disagree. How many homes being sold have to have electrical updated with arc-fault protection.

As far as homeowners insurance, obtaining a permit is no guarantee that they are going to cover any losses. You should inform them of the improvements. Next time I talk to my insurance agent, I'll ask her if they look at building permits when someone calls to tell them that they added a room addition.

I think permits are a good thing and in an ideal world, everyone would get them. Around here, I think unlicensed contractors doing substandard work is a bigger problem.

While we are on the topic. If a homeowner pulls permit and hires a contractor to the actual work. Doesn't the contractor assume less liability for the job?

Again, I really appreciate reading Doug and Lefty's helpful answers for so many people. I learn stuff all the time when I read this stuff. I really think permits should be obtained. I aslo wished that I always drove the speed limit. Sometimes I do not.
Old 05-15-05, 06:08 AM
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Arlington, WA
Posts: 9,238
Phil H,

We each live and work in different areas, have bldg. depts. that are enforcing different codes, and sometimes just have different bldg. depts. interpreting the same codes differently. That's just part of what our lives so much fun, and is at least partially why most contractors gray or go bald by their 40th birthday. (LOL!)

I agree when you say that unlicensed contractors are a much larger problem than working without a permit. But that's another thread, and I'm sure we'll get back to it.

Yes, obtaining a permit can add some time to a job. For simple 'over-the-counter' permits, that's never more than 1/2 hour plus however long you might wait in line. For a deck or pre-engineered patio cover (which is mostly what I do), add another 1/2 hour or so. For additions or remodels, I figure about 2 hours. To stay competitive, you can only add so much to your bid to cover that time, (Not the full $80/hr. that might be your standard rate!), and the rest of it you figure as being a cost of doing business.

Home inspections upon the sale of a house is really a can of worms. An inspector with a City business license is (IMHO) adding nothing but an additional cost to the sale, and the buyer is eating that cost. What's he inspecting?? He certainly can't know if repairs or remodels were done 'to code' or not -- he has no idea what the codes were when the repair or remodel was done. (That's why the permit becomes so big -- the City or County just recorded that everything was done to whatever codes were in force when the repair or remodel was done.) And there is no way that a seller can be forced to bring a house up to current codes before he sells it.

And it doesn't happen all the time, but there have been instances where an insurance has been denied simply because no permit was obtained for a significant remodel or addition, or where a heat generating appliance (woodstove, furnace, gas water heater, etc.) was installed without a permit. The permit is there simply as evidence that the installation was done to code -- a 1" space was left between a "B" vent and anything flammable, like the roof sheathing, etc. -- a gap that would be wiped out in the event of a fire. By having the permit as evidence, that is simply protecting the homeowner by giving the ins. co. one less reason by which they might deny the claim.
Old 05-16-05, 01:42 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: santa Rosa, California
Posts: 194

I am a licensed contractor in California for the past 16 years. I have to say that a licensed contractor here who works without a permit when one is required is subject to loss of license (1 year) and 5k-10k in fines. Although permits do not insure quality it does add one more inspection in the process. Cities and Counties hold no liability if a project is inspected and completed and finalled in their jursidiction. That I guess is why there are lawsuits. What I can say is, its hard enough to contract for a living without jeapordizing the license I fought so hard to get. I would question the motive of a licensed contractor who would be willing to risk his livlihood for a non permitted job.

Unlicensed contractors doing work for more than $300 labor and materials risk even more. The fines are bad enough but here unlicensed can also be legally unpaid. Worse if you do pay an unlicensed contractor and you were under the belief they were licensed they could be forced to repay whatever you did pay them.

As a superintendent I often had sub contractors who would refuse to correct an item that did not meet code unless the inspector wrote them up. These were the first items I would bring to the inspectors attention. My only other remedy would be to not pay them until the items were corrected but that put me at risk of lawsuit for failure to pay timely.

In order to keep my insurance and bonds active as a contractor I cannot build without permits. It is B&P codes. It is Construction codes. if I am caught not pulling permits when required my bond and insurance do not cover that scope of work.

My last comment is this when permits are required and not pulled three things happen.

1) on resale I have to disclose those items and receive no value for them. Square footage is based on tax rolls. Bedrooms and bathrooms off tax rolls.
So I added square footage at a price to me but cannot sale the additional at any value. I get to be creative with my descriptions like "Functions as a 3 bedroom".

2) lender may or may not be able loan on any of my house depending on what was altered without permits.

3) County or city may want a pound of flesh, plus removal of item, plus fines.

None of this seems worth it today.

Go to any code book UBC, CBC, BOCA, in the administrative section and it will define what does and does not need permits.

The purpose of any forum is to help with any project and discuss the correct methods of getting the project completed. We would all be derelict in that responsibility if we did not incude codes, rules, cc&r's, etc... I do not judge you if you do not follow the advice. My goal is to answer the question as it is presented. I include the codes and the rules as part of that advice. If you decide nothing else then at least hopefully those who read the answers at least follow the technical portion of our answers so if the inspector happens by then you can at least explain what was built and how so that maybe you will only have the fines and trouble not have to tear down the project and start over.

As a designer half my work the last few years has been working with owners who have code enforcement issues (construction w/out permits). The reason for the surge is as counties and cities look for ways to keep their budgets affloat they realize that property taxes are a great way. all the illegal units, square footage, garages etc.. allow the raising of property taxes as they are legalized.


as to the original question. did you take good photos of any areas you covered? is there enough uncovered that the inspector will have a feel for how your quality of work is? did you at least build to code? if the answer is yes I would apply for a pemit explaining the construction project you are proposing. I would supply all necessary requested drawings (the more complete the better). I would not confess nor would I mention the work without permits at this point. Once you have a permit in hand. I would then call for an inspection. if you are not from the trades you can apologize for being overzealous. If the work is to code and something is buried offer if need be to uncover or partially uncover the areas of concern. Having work with alot of code enforcement they are reasonable to a point. You on any inspection cannot hide or bury any area for inspection. If you need to remove a little sheetrock do so. If you need help on the codes just ask. Make sure the concrete to wood contact is pressure treated or rated for use. make sure the slab is sealed if that is a requirement in your area. Make sure the electrical, plumbing etc... on the new work meets todays code. What was good in the past may not be good for today.

It is only bad when they come knocking on the door not nearly so when you invite them in.

I hope this helps

Brian Garrison
General Contractor/Professional Building Designer

Last edited by Brian Garrison; 05-17-05 at 09:28 AM.
Old 05-16-05, 08:28 PM
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Arlington, WA
Posts: 9,238

You nailed it!! (Thanks.) The costs of NOT pulling a permit for a contractor are just too great. The hassle for a homeowner having to go back and prove his unpermitted work to an inspector just isn't worth it. And yes, the cities and counties are indeed cracking down on it.

One little correction though. An unlicensed person in CA can now do jobs up to $500 (labor AND material!) without running afoul of the CSLB. And they have made the penalties for getting caught worse. A guy gets caught the first time now, and he cannot take a contractor's exam for a year, along with the fines he gets slapped with. Get caught a second time, and he may as well take up basket weaving!!
Old 07-10-05, 03:59 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 10
I would have pulled permits for my basement finishing job... But I wasn't allowed to do the electrical. NOONE but a "licensed" electrician can do electrical work in this county. What a crock. I realize its to protect us from Joe doesn't know what hes doing Smith, but there should be some way to test a person and allow them to get a permit. I feel this rule is in place to help out the electrician biz in this county. I read the code, and technically you cant even change out an outlet without an electrician (permit).

Anyways, I was wondering what you people that advocate pulling permits recommend in this case?
Old 07-10-05, 05:38 PM
Doug Aleshire's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: United States
Posts: 4,680

Not sure what you are wanting to know hokiefan. What Brian and Lefty have mentioned is totally true!

Making assumptions that imply that "the rule is in place to help out the electrician biz in this county" is pretty far fetched and a irresponsible statement.

Your county may have other reasons for such a requirement and one is insurance. I have found that those that require a licensed electrican to do the work versus a homeowner, the home insurance rates are lower. You can believe this or not. The idea is that most fires originate from electrical issues. This is one means to get reimbursement for faulty workmanship, from a licensed installer who must carry insurance.

When it comes down to it, abiding by what the law dictates is for ones own benefit. Regardless of ones own opinions, I have an aversion to anyone not abiding by the law and wanting to be a rebel. This is, in part, what has prompted more strict measures to be implemented in the Building Inspections department.

What you know isn't good enough unless your are a licensed professional. Being a licensed professional doesn't mean you know as much or more either. I have heard the stories, I know just as much as them and I can do this and I can do that. So what? The problem is that many don't know enough.

So to avoid a debate about this issue, its really simple. What is required by your County or local building officials should be followed to the letter. Nothing worse than them getting on you for violations.

Those that want to debate this, take it to your local board meetings. This is not the place to do it nor will it be allowed within this thread or on this Forum. We, as moderators, do not go against what is required by law. We always insist that the proper permits be otained for any project that requires them.

The best advice to you, hokiefan, not taking out a permit is asking for trouble. Even if you think you did it without one and you didn't get caught, this doesn't make what you did right.

As they say, what goes around, comes around. This will hurt you in the end.

Hope this helps!

Last edited by Doug Aleshire; 07-10-05 at 07:21 PM.
Old 07-10-05, 06:12 PM
majakdragon's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: N.E. Arkansas
Posts: 7,827
Getting pretty hairy here. All I can say is wait until something happens and an insurance agent sees ANYTHING that he can prove was not done with a permit. Might be plumbing and you had an electrical fire. Oh well. He sees unpermitted work and WILL deny your claim. Insurance companies own most of the United States. There is no winning with them. So for whatever reason you see fit not to get a permit. be ready to suffer the consequences if something happens. Just a fact.
Old 07-10-05, 06:55 PM
majakdragon's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: N.E. Arkansas
Posts: 7,827
It appears that all the reasons for getting or not getting a permit have been exhausted and this thread is heading towards argumentative. Anyone reading this can make up their own mind as to what they wish to do. this post is closed.

Last edited by majakdragon; 07-10-05 at 07:23 PM.
Closed Thread

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Display Modes