Are construction code violations a serious matter?

You bet they are…

People call me all the time to ask me about the severity of the changes they made to their properties without permits. There’s no such a thing as a free lunch, people…It is cheaper to hire a consultant to prepare plans for a remodel or addition to your home than to have to pay the fines for construction code violations and deal with the harassment from the City officials after you get caught. They do not like people who try to full them.

To give you examples, let me mention a few:

Non-permitted brand new second story addition: A homeowner thought that because the pitched roof was so steep it gave the house enough head room to have a second story (smaller than the first floor plan, of course), he did not have to bother with the permits. Plus, nobody could see the work being done from outside because all he added to the exterior was a couple of dormers, so he thought he was off the hook. Too bad, he got into a fight with a neighbor and guess what? The neighbor turned him in at the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. This is what he told me: “All I did was install flooring on a floor structure that was already there!” “I didn’t add anything!” “This is my house and I should be allowed to do whatever I want to it.” The result? A case was filed against his property and he had to pay the fines plus get the permits he didn’t want to pay for to start with.

Complete interior and exterior remodel of a two story house: A homeowner who is a RE agent “didn’t know” he had to get a permit before doing any construction work on his recently purchased property. The changes included: Relocating load bearing walls, reconstruction of balconies, replacement of roof members that were dry rotted, replacement of all the electrical and plumbing¬† fixtures. “Oh, but I didn’t know, I never thought…” The result? Again, a case was filed against the property, etc., etc., etc.

Garage conversion: A homeowner called me outraged because the City was harassing her about taking out a parking space inside her attached garage. What did she do? She built a wall in the middle of the garage and built an office connected to the house through the self closing garage door which connected the house to the garage before. In other words, you had to step down to go into the office (7″ lower) because the office was on the garage slab which is absolutely not allowed by the Fire Department.¬† She complained that she didn’t have to tell anybody what she was doing to her house because she had owned that house for over 20 years. And what does that have to do with anything? You tell me… The result? A case was filed against the property, etc., etc., etc.

Non-permitted repairs to a monolithic concrete garage built in 1925. 

And my favorite: Repairs to a monolithic concrete deck and garage built in 1925: two of the concrete walls were retaining dirt, one had a small garage door and the last one was a common wall with the next door neighbor’s garage. This homeowner replaced the concrete wall over the garage door with wood studs and added no reinforcing to that new wood wall, cut the concrete slab on both ends to repair a perimeter leak but patched it again without adding the right amount of steel to make the right connection (which needs to be designed and calculated by structural engineer) and added another 4″ slab on top of the existing one plus a railing delineating a roof top deck that was not part of the original construction. This homeowner never got a permit but when the next door neighbor (the one who shared the concrete garage wall with her) started to do repairs to his garage, she filed a complain with the Neighborhood Code Compliance. In turn, the neighbor told on her so double the pleasure, double the fun… cases were filed against both residences.

I cannot emphasize enough how silly it is to try to cut corners with the City. We ALWAYS lose. They have every right to demand that you fix the problems and get approval from the officials because if something goes wrong with what you are doing, there could be horrible accidents like fires or slides, deaths, damage to other properties, etc.