How Your Contracting Business Can Approach Remediating Unpermitted Work
As a contractor, you may be called upon to make upgrades or repairs to work that clearly did not follow the proper path. Not every construction project needs permits, but many do. A lack of proper permits can be an indicator that the work was not completed to local building codes. This guide helps you ascertain whether or not work was done properly, as well as how to approach remediating it.
Search for Documentation
The first thing you can do is to ask for records concerning the project. Keep in mind that property owners may not have adequate documentation, especially if they bought it after the building or renovation was completed. California state law requires that each city keep a copy of building permits available for the life of the building. Depending on the city, you may be able to search for the building permits online.
Research Building Codes
Knowing what’s wrong is highly specific to the industry, so you may need to dig into your contractor licensing studies to confirm you have accurate information. In some cases, you can identify possible problems just by knowing the current building codes for your specialty and seeing elements that don’t seem to match those standards. Otherwise, you may need to consult city guidelines. Hiring an inspector can be helpful, but it’s wise not to rely too much on the report. Inspectors often don’t dig under the surface to verify the condition of structures, fixtures and finishes if it would damage the property.
Consider Retroactive Permits
If you believe that the project may meet standards, you should at least consider helping the property owner apply for retroactive permits. This approach may only make sense if they are generally happy with the building or renovation as it is. Approval is generally unlikely, since many cities refuse to grant permits unless they can verify from the inside that the work was completed to suit building codes. That may not be possible or practical for a variety of projects, such as plumbing or electrical upgrades.
Evaluate Possible Solutions
The best solution depends on the work and what the property owner expects. With almost any kind of unpermitted work, you can consider the following:
- Undoing the work and leaving the space as it was before
- Removing the work and starting over with necessary permits
- Make repairs that allow the building to meet standards
Talk to the property owner about timelines and budget for the work, so you can help them make an educated decision.
Emphasize the Importance of Permitted Work
No one wants to be told that the work they invested thousands of dollars for was completed incorrectly and needs repairs. This means that you may have to convince the property owner that your recommended course of action is best. Remind them that unpermitted work can make a property expensive or impossible to sell. Work that triggers problems on a buyer’s inspection report may demand hasty remediation at a higher price to keep the sale going. Owners with documented unpermitted work in the building also may have their current insurance invalidated and be unable to secure a new policy.
Be Realistic About Remediation
Since the cost to remove old work and correct it can be high, it can be tempting to tell the property owner that you could make minor repairs that cost much less and accomplish the same goal. Make sure this is not just possible but practically guaranteed before you start. If you think there’s a good chance that you will have to take down a wall or completely redo the project, let the property owner know. They may not be happy about the cost but at least they won’t get an unpleasant surprise halfway through the job.
Unpermitted work is so common that you’ll encounter it many times in your contracting business. A solid educational foundation will help you know how to fix it. To start building your contracting career, contact us at CSLS today!