We’ve recently started a small home improvement project. The project began, as every home improvement project should begin, with the application for a Building Permit. I’m sure one or two of you are wondering why I bothered getting a permit. I’m sure, because there have been at least one or two people in my daily work-life circles who have asked me that question.
The short answer to “why bother with a permit?” It’s the law. Evidence of the need for such a law is abundant in the rattrap “additions” I’ve seen recently.
Anyway, we have a new Building Inspector. I have pulled so many permits, that I was comfortable with the previous inspector. He was comfortable with me as well. I’d show him my plans. He’d look them over and say: “let me know when you’re ready for me to take a look,” and off I’d go. The permit would arrive in the mail, a few weeks later. The new guy is a bit more formal, like the old guy was 25 years ago. It’s OK. He has a job to do, and I respect that.
It’s been three or four years since I pulled a permit, and the process has changed a bit. Looking at some of the changes, I can see why some people avoid getting permits, but I still say they’re wrong:
Taxes paid? – Today’s Building Permit application has a box indicating that the taxes on the property are current. In fact, I had to take the application to the Tax Collector and get his stamp in that box before the application could be submitted. That’s a good idea in my book. If you have enough money to add on, you should use some to pay your taxes.
Zoning? – Are you allowed to build what you propose? You have to get that answer from the Zoning department before submitting the application. It’s a simple question but I drive by three houses on my way to work that have “additions” where the answer would have been no, had they bothered to ask. We’re putting a little roof to shade/protect the south side of our porch. No zoning issues here.
Fair market value? – This one took me by surprise. All the previous permits I’ve applied for included a base fee of $20 and an incremental fee of $10-per-thousand of the total cost. Total cost, in my case, has always been the cost of material. I could add in the cost of labor, but my wife doesn’t pay very well. She did let me buy that new chop-saw, but… I met with the inspector. We hemmed and hawed and agreed on a reasonable number. Reasonable, I like that.
Workmans’ Comp – There’s a new form that accompanies the Permit Application, where I have to show that all “employees” are covered by Workmans’ Comp insurance or attest to the fact that I am doing all the work myself. I’ve been injured on-the-job, as it were, while doing home-improvement projects. Medical costs, for even minor injuries, can be staggering. We once asked a friend to leave, because his girlfriend was messing around with equipment and material, and we knew that she didn’t have any medical insurance. If she had gotten injured, we would have gotten sued. Who needs that?
People also make fun of me for pulling a permit because: “your taxes will go up.” No they won’t. We’ve already over-improved this house relative to the market. Besides, they do a walk-through assessment every five years…they aren’t going to notice the roof hanging over the stairs? I’m not going to complain about that, well, I will, but not because of having to have a permit. Think about it:
First and foremost, if you build cheap, you’re putting yourself, your family and your guests in danger. I don’t want this roof collapsing under a heavy load of snow. The damage would greatly exceed my “savings” and my homeowners insurance wouldn’t have to pay, if they didn’t want to. The Building Code is there for a reason.
Additionally, if you skirt the assessor and keep your taxes artificially lower than they should be, everybody else’s taxes go up to cover the contribution you’re not making. The Town has to get money somewhere. Similarly, if they day-laborer you snagged in the Home Depot parking lot gets hurt on your job, he’s going to the ER, and our medical insurance costs are going up. Finally, that unsightly-piece-of-crap you put up is making it harder for the guy across the street from you to sell his house. We’re in a community, nobody is special.