The Power of Permits

man-with-drawings-small.jpgI went to visit a property today, and was disappointed to find yet another home where the owners had decided to do all of their remodeling without obtaining building permits. The kitchen was missing an airgap device for the dishwasher, there was PVC plumbing for the sink instead of copper, and these are just the things that my untrained eye noticed (I say “untrained” because I’m a Realtor®, not a building inspector). This place was an extreme example. Many San Francisco homeowners will take the time and expense of making any building changes meet the building codes, but opt not to pull a building permit. San Francisco homeowners seem to be notorious for such shananigans. It’s not that people have bad intentions or are trying to avoid having their property meet the codes… it just that they fear that dealing with San Francisco Department of Building Inspection can be a nuisance and that the cost of obtaining permits ups the overall cost of a project. However, skipping the permit process can potentially cost you much more and can potentially cause you huge problems down the line.
One client did a huge remodel to his house without pulling the necessary building permits. The remodel added almost 1,000 square feet of living space. When the buyer’s appraiser checked tax records to see the building’s actual square footage, public records showed much less that the measured square footage. Since the appraiser could not verify that the property had the original square footage added legally (which it wasn’t), he wasn’t able to appraise the house for the full price the buyer had offered. The lender would not fund on the property since it would not appraise at the value of the purchase contract. As a result, the seller had to go to the City building department and take out permits for work that was already done. In addition to the regular permit fees, he received penalties so the permit fees were higher than they would have been if he’d taken permits out to begin with. But my client got off easy – the building inspector could have required that walls be opened up to check the electrical and plumbing installations, which would have cost even more.
It’s ridiculous to throw tons of money on a major renovation without getting building permits. And you might be required to undo work that was done without permits. You could even be stopped from completing a job until you obtain the necessary permits. And if you are planning on converting TIC’s to condos, you will be inviting a city building inspector into your home… and if work is done without permits, you could potentially slow down, or even stall your condo conversion until you get the proper permits.
To make sure that you don’t get into trouble, check with the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection to find out what, if any, permits are required before you start a home renovation project. Not all projects require permits.