A New Sheriff in Town

Permit
We’re good to go.

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.

Form 7A
Yet another form

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.

87 thoughts on “A New Sheriff in Town

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    1. That’s another great point, Brenda. I once had an HVAC guy who was angry with me for pulling a permit. Later, I overheard him telling one of his guys “you have to do that (right) cause he pulled a permit”.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I had done a lot of the AC work myself. We did the ducts, the electrical and put the units in place. I needed the HVAC guy to connect refrigerant and convert thermostats. I’m not sure what he didn’t want to do, but he was angry.

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  1. Best of luck with the construction project. It’s great that you can undertake the work yourself. Cheaper and you are assured of getting precisely what you wanted in the end. My husband and I can do lots of DIY but construction projects are beyond our abilities.

    Having lived all my life in the UK under one set of codes and ways of doing things, I’ve had to adjust quickly to how things operate here. Our township requires us to pull a permit for almost everything we do to our property. It’s no bad thing really – though it adds delays – but it’s been a cultural adjustment for us that we need to seek permission even for like for like replacements.

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        1. It gets easier over time. Usually, once they know that you follow the rules and do good work, they let you get started while the permit is being processed. I was at the point with the guy that retired where I would show him the plans , answer a few questions, go home and get started.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. The workmanship Como is new, but I understand the issue behind it. Still, on those days when you just need a second set of hands, I’m not sure what you go by. I always make sure people have insurance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This might explain why my ex rarely got permits and used to force the kids and I to help in his home construction projects. It generally ended in someone hurt, crying and angry….or all the above when we didn’t know what or how to do what he wanted. We did all have insurance though on the bright side.

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          1. Yeah, that was not our case. We were yelled at for not holding things at the proper angle or failing to hold things upright while standing on a ladder with the heavy items over our heads. Not fun. But that is all neither here nor there on this topic of permits, lol. ‘Safety first’ is an Army motto…and good for life in general:)

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        1. That’s another great point. I did that for a ramp to our porch. You don’t need s permit for a handicapped access ramp, but we made it permanent, out of the same material as the porch, so we hit the permit.

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    1. Thanks Judy. I can blame you if I go into the weeds :)

      Actually, I really do want to get better at describing details in a way that makes sense. I’m going to try to do a SoCS post on Saturday about the first step.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Unsightly piece of crap”…I love it! I know nothing of building permits, but I give you two thumbs up for abiding by the law and keeping your roof from falling down. Stay safe in completing your home project and I hope to eventually see the fruits of your labor.

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  3. You have good ethics. Too bad they’re not contagious.

    We haven’t replaced the steps to the back porch yet, but that’s the first thing I can see us researching for permission — I’d like to draft something and see what they say. Building it will be easy, but I don’t want any trouble.

    I’m impressed you consider litigation. I always think about this when I ride with other people and it gets more complicated when the children ride with other families. Do they even have med-pay? What’s their cap? Dreadful stuff, but it’s a thing.

    Good luck with your new project! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joey. The litigation is a real issue. My homeowners policy would likely deny the claim. The only way they could get reimbursed would be to sue. We asked her to stop “helping” (she was doing things wrong, anyway) but she insisted. I finally just asked the to leave.

      Riding kids around can be scary. We were usually of the opinion they we’d be better off doing the driving. At least I knew what I was up against.

      Sometimes, you don’t need a permit for stairs. It depends on how many there are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve hit on all the issues here. We’ve done many projects over three houses, some ourselves, and some contracted out. It is easier and safer (physically and legally) to follow the rules, and I always liked the idea that someone was checking the work of contractors so that our house didn’t blow up or burn down. Because it all seems fine until – it’s not. Good luck with your project.

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  5. My brother was a building inspector. He could tell you stories!!

    … but they sure don’t make the permit process user-friendly. We jumped through hoops to get a permit to cut down a tree, including a $600 arborist report as requested for the application.
    In the end, they still denied our request.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad you’re doing things the right way, Dan, but I wouldn’t have expected anything else. The most amazing thing was the the inspector was reasonable. That’s not always the case by far. One of the suburbs next to where we lived in the Cleveland area was notorious for having point-of-sale inspections that found a zillion things wrong and then, once fixed, a quarter of a zillion more. And they were anything but reasonable. Power tripping, more like.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some can be that way, Janet. The first time the company I worked for, moved, the building inspector was a major pain in the butt. The guy in the town north of us used to drive around on weekends, listening for the sound of power saws :)

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  7. Good advice. We considered a renovation a few years ago and found that some former owner had not got a permit for a small den .That would’ve been a complication had we gone through with the project .

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  8. Great post…I agree with you….I am amazed how people think not pulling a permit is a great idea…I get it’s a cost and hassle, but when you go to sell the house….you’ll be glad you did. When we sold our house in San Diego, I had 18 years of improvements I had to disclose and permits were a major part of it. Penny wise….pound foolish…

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  9. To be honest, home and home improvement topics were never on my interest list. However, things changed after 2008 when I became the sole earning member of the house and call the shots. Although, most of the paperwork and documentation is done by my elder brother who excels at it, I take the final decision and there is a reason why I put my foot in the door. My brother thinks of savings, while I think of quality. It has already happened to us that in order to make savings, he made choices which went wrong and the result was I end up spending more on repairs. So, now I make decisions and I think of quality because like you I don’t want my roof collapsing, or faucet leaking, or floors breaking up when I least expect it. I would rather spend more now and be at peace. I pay all the taxes related to home on time, so I don’t have to pay late fee. I think abiding by the law is the best policy when it comes to property because a lot of money is already invested on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s such a good point Sharukh. For most families, their home is the largest expense they will ever make. To treat it as if it doesn’t matter is self-defeating. Paying for quality is usually worth it in the long-term.

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  10. Wish you hadn’t brought this up. Building inspectors and federal judges are accountable to no one.

    1 you better have full documentation that all those permits are closed out, or you will be in for some nightmare when you go to sell your place.
    2. Better triple your project budget for contractor downtime waiting for the building inspector to show up.
    3. Building codes, permits and call before you dig programs do not equate to safety. I saw two guys nearly electrocuted following this process. And one wanted a handrail system sure to cause falls. I stopped a roofing job because of several seriously cracked roof trusses after a snow and ice storm and called the building inspector. He was ok with the condition and annoyed I had called him. The trusses did come out
    4. I had one building inspector accuse me of forging a survey when I pulled a permit for a shed.

    Issues of oversight, level of discretion, are among the many problem areas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry Stan, I didn’t mean to open a wound. I had pretty good luck with our previous inspector. This guy seems a bit more by-the-book, but I’m OK with that. I like that he’s willing to accept photographic evidence of things like proper flashing, so I don’t have to wait for him to show up for an inspection. I’ll be able to build the roof structure before he needs to see it. Then, I can document my roofing with photos and have him back for a final inspection. That’s not too bad. On the other side of the coin, I found so many mistakes in this house by the previous owner, that cost me money and never would have passed an inspection – including a “header” that was cut too short and had two 2x4s nailed onto the end!

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      1. I’m not in any way advocating skirting the law and not pulling permits. Ultimately, safety is your responsibility, not the building inspectors or even the code. Keep your eyes open, head on straight, document everything and ask questions, question everything.

        About safety, I am compelled to add some detail about the call before you dig (CBD) example. CBD only marks public utility locations; not privately installed utilities such as underground electric that was run thru my condo complex. The guys hit very shallow hurried cable when constructing a new deck. All permits in place. 100% legal, yet 2 guys nearly electrocuted.

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        1. Yikes. I guess I always assumed they could magically find everything. We found a buried electrical live in our back yard. I guess it had been for a pool filter. The previous homeowner cut it off at both ends but left it buried. Still a scare when I hit it with a shovel.

          This little roof will be over-built relative to the code. But I don’t want to worry about it.

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  11. My Dad was a “by the book” kind of guy. Must be why I like your friendship and value your thoughtful comments. Patios, decks, awnings and a wall with a barbecue installed into it passed inspection.
    My Dad even got a treehouse permitted, it had a trap door where you could sleep in it in our junior high school and high school suburban village.
    The stairs leading down the cliff on Lake Erie, (at the lake cottage) on the other hand, we all wondered if they got a permit. . . The railings were solidly grounded in cement but he liked using stuff he dragged out of the lake so it “looked” a little ratty. He was still in his fifties so I am not questioning his mind, though. :)

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