Question: I am purchasing a house and am concerned about open permits and code violations. The contract says the seller is supposed to deal with it. I asked her, and she said everything is good to go, but I am still worried. What should I do? – Sally
Answer: You are right to be concerned. Property owners are required to get a permit from their municipality before doing most renovations and repairs. What must be permitted varies by location, with some areas requiring permits for almost everything from cutting down trees to replacing your mailbox, while other towns require permits only for significant work, like replacing an air conditioner.
If a permit is pulled, the work must pass inspection and be properly closed out. Unfortunately, most people do not realize that a prior permit remained open until they need a new one years later. When this happens, the original contractor must arrange an inspection and close the permit before the new work can begin. This can be difficult when the contractor is no longer around. Then the property owner will need to hire a new contractor to take responsibility for the work, which can be expensive. You can find out what permits are required from your town’s website.
There are penalties for not getting a permit when one is required. This is a code violation and can result in significant fines and removal of the work. I have consulted with many homeowners who had to remove their sunroom because it was done without a permit or is not up to code. This is even worse when you recently bought your house and learn that you need to pay to fix the renovation performed by the previous owner.
Fortunately, these problems can usually be avoided with some detective work. You can look online for most houses at the city’s permit history or get it from town hall. Make sure that there are no open permits or code violations for the home.
When doing the inspection, make a note of major components that look newer than the rest of the house, such as cabinets, air conditioner or the bathroom, and cross-reference the list making sure that required permits were pulled and closed. If anything does not match up, it is time to have a heart to heart with your seller.
About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.
© 2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.