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Permits- What happens if the seller didn't get them?

What happens if the owner doesn't have permits for the remodels or additions for the house you are buying?
  • April 10 2011 - San Marcos
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Answers (12)

Buyers need to check with the city to confirm if the proper permits were acquired for the work performed. If they were not, the city may require the unpermitted additions to be partially or fully disassembled to inspect the quality of the work to make sure it was done up to code levels. If it was not done properly it will need to be corrected or restored back to its original state.



  • March 24 2012
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Dear Susan,
It's possible to contact the city and retrofit to get the property "up to code" so to speak, but it will cost you money.The reason people don't get permits is that they use unlicensed contractors and laborers to do the work from other countries.
It's cheap..very cheap..by comparison to licensed contractors but you the consumer is the one who pays in the end.
Always rememeber..un permitted work is poor quality work. Permits enforce the minimum safety requirements for construction to protect the consumer.

  • March 02 2012
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It depends on your city and their requirements. Since you are buying the home, try calling the city and ask the questions on the improvements that were done. They will certainly know the answer there.
  • February 29 2012
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Profile picture for sunnyview
Most towns/cities will give you a grace period to bring properties up to code. Their goal is to make sure that housing is safe and code compliance is one way to do that.

You can contact the office where permits are issued anonymously and explain the situation or you can ask a local contractor to come and take a look. Most times, they can help you estimate the cost of bringing the house up to the point that the work can be signed off. Then you can decide what to do from there.
  • February 29 2012
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Bank owned properties issue 'special warranty deeds' which essentially says they can only guarantee the title to the property from the day they acquired the property until the day of sale. Most bank owned properties are sold 'As Is' so this could possibly shield them from liability should it be determined that permits weren't pulled by the previous owner.

In cities with 'Truth in housing' inspections, the inspector will note which deficiencies require permits to bring them up to code, but they don't do a records search to determine if existing work was done with permits or up to code.  If a city inspection determines that work needs to be done to bring the property to code compliance, the burden of repairs (and re-inspection) often will fall to the buyers. Which is why it's a good idea to have a home inspection on any purchase.

  • February 29 2012
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Profile picture for user811570
What happens if owner doesn't have permits for work done by previous owners (and town doesn't keep permits for longer than 5 years) and owner cannot afford to comply with town code.   Is bankruptcy the only solution for homeowner?  Very few owners of older houses can produce all the permits required and this means large portions of some communities are unsaleable, causing more foreclosures, loss of taxes to the towns and lower values of property.  What is required of banks selling foreclosures?
  • February 29 2012
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As wetdawgs suggested, if it was an addition I would insist that the seller provide retroactively obtained permits, inspection reports for plumbing/electrical/structural as required by law, and pay all fines and backtaxes that may have accrued do to the added assessed value. You do not want to be stuck with all that. If the seller can't provide all that, I would not even consider it.

  • April 10 2011
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Profile picture for the_country_hick
Baron, "but don't disclose the property without the owner's permission."

Why not? If that property is in violation of the law it can and should be reported.

What difference does it make if a neighbor finds out and reports it, the code enforcement officer comes by and finds out, or someone looking at the house reports the problems? The town office will react to illegal improvements the same way. I say go ahead and report. Illegal is illegal and can be reported any time it is found by anyone who finds or knows about it.

Anyone who knows about this kind of a problem and does not report it is simply going to cause the next buyer to get hurt. The seller does not disclose anything. The city finds out 3 weeks after the sale happens and who pays the fines and demolition costs? Not the seller. The new buyer.
  • April 10 2011
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You should call the county and their code compliance department and ask specific questions without disclosing the property. Some cities/counties really don't care, especially if they are really old properties. Some are vigilant about getting owners to get all the proper design/permitting/fees/etc. done regardless of when they were done. 

So is it a big addition or just a small plumbing job that no one will ever notice nor care about.....most county planning departments are helpful with frank information...but don't disclose the property without the owner's permission.
  • April 10 2011
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Profile picture for the_country_hick
Worst case scenario: The present owner of that property gets a legal notice saying they MUST remove all additions immediately at their expense AND pay fines.

This includes you if you buy a house that does not have legal permits and additions. The illegal addition does not become legal just because the house is sold.
  • April 10 2011
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Susan:

This is the second question that you have posed about what sounds like a transaction where you are receiving less than adequate representation. Did the seller, or their agent, disclose that they didn't pull permits, or are they trying to hide the fact? If they were trying to keep it from you, Wettdawgs is right...you should find another house! 
  • April 10 2011
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
If permits were not pulled or signed off for the remodeling and/or additions, then you can request that they do it retroactively as part of the purchase contract, or perhaps easier, move on to another house. 

  • April 10 2011
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