Legalizing unpermitted work

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by: Martin Santiago

UNPERMITTED work is a blanket term that applies to any modifications made to the home that should have been permitted but were not. The permitting laws are different depending on the area, so what might require a permit in one place may not in another. Work done without obtaining permits and inspections is unlawful, and failure to obtain permits may result in the recording of a notice against the property or a misdemeanor citation. Notices recorded against your property could impact refinancing or any future sale of your property. Additionally, insurance companies may not cover any claims that originate from illegal work. Whether you are a buyer or a seller, improvements done without permits can prove to be an expensive and time-consuming hassle.

What do to if you are a buyer? If the deal seems reasonable enough, maybe it is worth it to you to get the home and accept the risks involved. You could always plan on correcting the issue later on. As long as you are willing to spend the money, you can usually get permits. Most communities would rather have you point out the fact work was done without permits and get the problem squared away. The town will be able to collect their fees for the permits along with re-assessing the property for increase tax dollars.

What to do if you are a seller? Change of ownership does not make unpermitted work legal. Selling as-is could require you to offer a discount, sometimes a severe cut, to attract buyers willing to take on all the risks associated with the non-permitted work. It’s not advisable to attempt to sell the home without disclosing the unpermitted work, because doing so puts you at serious risk of a lawsuit. In fact, you will need to include the unpermitted work in the listing for the home. Not disclosing property defects is a way a lot of people get themselves into hot water.

Legalizing unpermitted additions can be very tricky and expensive. The major problem is that the city did not approve the project plans and they did not inspect the actual construction to make sure that it was done correctly and per the drawing specifications. This can be particularly disturbing because no one inspected the structure to make sure it is safe and can withstand gravity and lateral loads (earthquakes and wind). This is arguably the most important part of a building because people’s life are at stake if the structure was not properly installed.

Steps to get a permit:

1) Meet with a planner. Similar to a regular building permit process, one should first meet with a planner at the Planning Department to see if the illegal addition is within the zoning ordinances.

2) Hire an architect. This step can technically be done prior to the meeting with the planner. However, if one is on a tight budget, they may consider meeting with a planner on their own.

3) Submit plans for review & approval. Once all the drawings and pertinent documents are completed, then the owner will need to submit for plan check.  After the approvals are granted from each of the plan checkers, the building permit is issued after the building permit fees are paid.

4) Pass inspections. Once the building permit is issued, an owner can call for an inspection.

5) Issuance of Certificate of Occupancy. Once the final inspection has been approved and signed off, the certificate of occupancy will be issued. Now, your work is finally permitted.

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Martin Santiago is a broker associate at Compass Burlingame, a full-service residential brokerage firm.  He is also an International Associate at the American Institute of Architects. The information presented in this article is for general information only and is not, nor intended to be a formal legal advice nor the formation of a broker-client relationship. Call or email Martin at (415)850-7704; teammsquare@gmail.com; www.teammsquare.com.

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