A building permit is required by most municipalities for new construction, remodeling, additions, and updates. A fee is usually paid for the permit and given final approval by the local building inspector once the project is completed. A home permit history is a search of the building permits awarded and approved for a home by the municipality. In other words, making sure the building is legal.
Don’t I get this with an inspection?
A home permit history is not performed as part of the home inspection process. The home inspection report is not a substitute for, and should not be interpreted as a home permit history. Home Inspectors often recommend that the buyer obtain a permit history on a home they want to purchase. However, most buyers don’t heed this advice, which can lead to problems later.
Why should I perform a history search?
Homeowners often do work without permits to save money. If discovered, it may be necessary to apply for permits after the fact. This may involve paying penalties in addition to the permit application fees, or worse, tearing down the new addition and starting fresh. If you are buying a home that has been remodeled over time, there’s a good chance that some of the work was done without permits.
Finding out that building permits were not acquired or approved can create many problems, including being required to “re-do” the remodeling because it won’t pass stringent building codes. Sometimes absence of permits or approvals are discovered when the buyers are trying to add their personal touches to the remodeling process. Their contractor applies for a permit only to discover the work done by the sellers last year to make the home more “appealing”, is still awaiting final approval from the city. Many homebuyers have discovered and learned the hard way by forgoing a permit search. Make sure you understand what future consequences may be in store for you.
Sometimes sellers may not be aware of the problem, since some contractors will skip the permit process (without the owners knowledge) in order to save time. Searching the permit record during the inspection contingency time period may create opportunity to negotiate a satisfactory resolution to permit issues before closing. You may have to visit the municipal building or planning department to search the permit record of the home. This should be included in the due diligence investigations of the property.
Local municipal building inspection departments can be located through your local phone book and internet searches.