By MICHAEL EDLEN Special to the Palisadian-Post It can happen so easily. You decide to remodel your bathroom. You find a contractor who says he will do all the work according to code. To save time and money you don’t get a permit from the City of Los Angeles to complete the work. What are the risks involved? Technically, the city requires that homeowners obtain a building permit before making property improvements that cost $500 or more. Although I do not know many building code provisions, I am aware that they are extremely detailed and have heard that projects are often delayed for many days while waiting for inspectors to come out and approve the work in process. In order for homeowners to receive a permit, they or their representative must file plans and pay a fee to the city. The inspection process may be inconvenient as well as taking extra time, and those reasons are why many homeowners do remodeling without using the permit process. Others do such work with unlicensed contractors in an effort to avoid extra costs and time altogether. There are some potential risks in doing non-permitted work. For example, if the city discovers this later, getting the work permitted can cost far more and involve challenges that would not have been involved if the permit had been obtained at the start. If the work was not done according to code or if the inspector cannot tell if the work was done properly, the homeowner may need to have walls or floors opened up to enable the inspection. I recall one home being sold in the Palisades where an entire room had been added without a permit. This was discovered during an escrow inspection, and it required several months to re-build with the correct type of electric wiring and proper spacing of studs in the walls. The seller tried to simply give a credit to the buyer, but the buyer’s insurance company noted that if a fire started in that part of the home the company would not pay for the losses. Thus, the seller had to absorb the costs of correcting the work, or risking losing the escrow. In addition, by California law, a seller must disclose any non-permitted work to any prospective buyer. This could lead to some discount in sale price, require the seller to do costly and time-consuming repairs before the escrow closes, or possibly cause an escrow to fall out. We recently sold a home where the seller had put up a low retaining wall without completing the permit process. The work was properly done and nearly all in accordance with building code provisions. However, the buyer was not willing to close escrow until a permit had been properly processed to completion. It cost the seller thousands of dollars and several weeks of delays to rush through all of the necessary steps. As that seller sadly concluded, if he had known how much stress he and the buyer would have over this, he would have endured the city bureaucracy and added costs of time and money in the beginning. The far greater costs at the end were clearly not worth it. In the future he will be sure that any contractor does all his work under the permit process. (Editor’s note: Michael Edlen is a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Pacific Palisades. Information on building permits can be obtained from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety by visiting www.ladbs.org or going to its Westside office at 1828 Sawtelle Blvd., on the second floor.)
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