Permits? We don't need no stinkin' permits!
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
This may come as a shock to many of you, but at least 50 percent of the "renovated" homes out there did NOT get any permits or inspections for the work they did.
So, that really nice-looking flipped house you saw? No permits for the rewiring or breaker panel installation. No, no inspection on the plumbing work that's now totally covered by drywall, either. Structural repairs? "Yeah, we did some sister boards - good stuff, too....no, no permits, but it's solid....trust me!"
What's the big deal? It all looks pretty good.
I know, I know. It all looks so pretty and perfect with the new drywall, and the nice cabinets, and quartz countertops - how bad could it really be? Well..... Pretty bad. Raw sewage poring into your basement bad.
First, there are three reasons I can think of for contractors not obtaining permits:
1) To save time
2) To save money
3) To conceal subpar work or potential problems
Which one of those reasons do you think is a good enough to take a chance on?
Time? Sure, I understand that the permit process is slow and deliberate, but that's because it is important to make sure that no one is trying to short cut zoning or codes. The old saying about contracting work is: "You can have it done fast, cheap, or good. Pick two." If it's done fast, and we all know that flippers are in it for the money, guess which one that leaves out?
Money? Permits aren't that expensive, but complying with code can be. Usually, the items that get left out are important safety features like AFCI breakers, GFCI outlets, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide sensors, or egress from a finished basement to the exterior. These things can add up to $500 or more in savings for the flipper (or $2500-5000 in the case of egress), but could cost you your life. Not an even trade.
Subpar work? Well, we don't even need to discuss this since no one wants that.
Who's liable? You are. The buyer. You bought it, you own it. Bad wiring, leaking plumbing, shoddy structural patches and all.
One other consideration: insurance will not cover you if a fire, leak or other problem is the result of unpermitted work. So, if a water heater floods that unpermitted finished basement, the insurance company is likely to ask "What finished basement?" Or if a fire is started by amateur wiring that did not get code approval, it is possible they can deny your claim entirely. Now how great does that remodeled home with no permits look?
Not every flip or remodel is a bad one - even those without permits. And not every issue is a major concern or a deal-killer. My last inspection of a renovated twin in Philly was beautiful - but they didn't pull permits and the electrical was a concern. The entire kitchen - refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, disposal, range, 6 outlets and lighting - was connected to ONE circuit (code requires at least 5). This would most likely have been safe, but a tremendous nuisance as the circuit kept tripping every time you wanted to run the microwave and dishwasher together.
Buyers are accepting a lot of liability, and if their inspection uncovers several issues on items that can be seen, they should wonder what might be lurking unseen behind the drywall.
My advice: make sure you have an inspector who fully understands what is and isn't there. The inspector should be familiar with codes, know what telltale signs indicate unpermitted work, and be able to identify signs of shoddy work or concealed problems. Listen to them, and ask questions.
PRECISION HOME INSPECTION
Philadelphia's Premiere Home Inspector