Donít get motivated without a permit

September 19, 2008
REALTORģ Outlook
By Kay Wilson-Bolton Itís a three day weekend and you get an urge for nesting instead of camping. Those concrete blocks in the back yard have been begging for installation and you figure itís a good time to build that wall. The neighbors are out of town and you can work without input or insults.If you ever plan to sell your home, it is best to begin the project. Plant roses, mulch the yard and straighten the garage instead.With every jurisdiction looking for ways to pay for services apart from traditional tax revenue sources, donít get caught building a block wall without a permit. The costs to correct and the fees to comply are hefty. In this case, the penalty equaled the cost of the wall.In a current situation, the preliminary title report revealed that the City had recorded a Notice of Non-compliance for a concrete block wall. An escrow cannot close without a Release and a Statement of Compliance so the task began to discover the integrity of the wall.Four weeks and $4180 later, we discovered the wall was built to standards greater than code. How simple it would have been to get a permit, build it, get it inspected and have a building inspector sign it off?The list of construction and installation activities that requires permits is lengthy. It generally applies to plumbing, heating, electrical and some structural work. Surprisingly enough, in some cities, the installation of a new kitchen does not warrant a permit. However the installation of new electrical outlets, ceiling fans and water lines does.One very attractive revenue source for cities will be the mandatory inspection of residential units as a point of sale requirement. The real estate community has managed to work with at least two cities to forestall the implementation of this requirement, so the focus has moved to mandatory inspections of multi-family units.The Stateís budget crisis has a massive trickle-down effect that requires local jurisdictions to get creative with fees for service-including the cost of an extra trash barrel, cities providing competing services and the fee for a 911 call.
It is tempting to think that working around the permit is no big deal. In the short run, it isnít. When the time comes for you to sell your home, it can be a big deal when you have to disclose that the concrete wall was built without a permit.Hereís how to prove a concrete block wall was built to code. Hire an engineer with a Pachometer, extract core samples for testing, conduct a compression test, determine the presence of rebar, grout and the width and depth of the footing. All of this is on top of preparing reports, coordinating with the cityís building and safety department, and researching building codes. This phase cost $2,225. The penalty for the deed was $1,380. The balance was spent on fees, permits and labor to dig the holes to expose the footings.Good citizenship does not require that we pay our fair share of the hometown budget deficit.If in doubt about the permit requirements, make a phone call to City Hall. If itís a local call, it might still be free. Kay Wilson-Bolton is the owner of CENTURY 21 Buena Vista with offices in Santa Paula and Ventura. She brings a regional perspective to local issues. She can be reached at 805.340.5025. Her web address is

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