Finding unpermitted work is not the worst thing that can happen to a new homeowner, but it certainly helps for it to be discovered sooner rather than later. If any laws were broken by the previous homeowners, the new (innocent) homeowner can both distance themselves from the mistakes and then take steps to ensure their home is up to code. See how permits work, and what the owner can do if they know (or suspect) the previous homeowner(s) didn't follow the rules when it came to performing home improvement on their home.
The Nature of Permits
Every neighborhood or HOA has their own rules when it comes to what homeowners can do to their property. Some take a laissez-faire attitude, trusting homeowners to make their own decisions on their own property. Some require permits for larger projects, and some mandate that professionals must be hired for certain tasks. These rules are normally based on the configuration of the neighborhood.
If the homeowner accidentally breaks a water pipe, will it affect just them or will it affect the whole neighborhood? All homeowners should be aware of these rules before ever getting started on major projects throughout the home but, unfortunately, many do not. If the new homeowner turns a blind eye to it all, they may end end up regretting it—even though they technically did nothing wrong.
Some West Terrace homeowners actively know they're breaking the rules by adding a sunroom to the back of the home or by rearranging the plumbing in their bathroom. But most owners likely assume they're allowed to do what they like on the land they purchased fair and square. Unfortunately, neither type of homeowner is likely to have kept detailed records of exactly what they did, which means homeowners may have to go on a bit of a journey to find out what was done and which jobs were against standard regulations, and it all starts with the blueprints of the original construction.
For those who were never given the blueprints by the seller, they can check with their HOA, the city, or the original construction company. But this still may not even do a homeowner much good—especially if permit rules regularly change, and a homeowner can't ascertain when the work was actually done.
Disclose the Information
After homeowners have done their due diligence, they should talk to city officials to explain what they know about the work and what still remains a mystery. Local authorities should be able to direct a homeowner from there. They may recommend that the homeowner gets an inspection to ensure that the work was done correctly. After all, just because the homeowner didn't secure a permit doesn't mean they did the work incorrectly.
Or authorities may require the homeowner to get a new permit for the work that was already done. And it's usually best to take care of all this sooner rather than later. Unpermitted work can be dangerous to the property and potentially the rest of the neighborhood. In addition, home sellers are required to tell buyers that there was unpermitted work done on the home, which can mean spell big trouble for a homeowner who keeps quiet.
Explore the Options
Different cities will have different policies when it comes to how much effort and money a homeowner will have to spend after finding unpermitted work. For example, they may allow retroactive permitting, which is usually a much faster and cheaper way of remedying the problem. Homeowners also have the option to go back to the original sellers if they were the ones at fault.
In addition, certain title insurance companies may cover the related costs of unpermitted work (though it should be noted this is not a very common clause.) For homeowners who choose to do nothing about the unpermitted work, they are generally allowed to sell their home as-is without penalty. However, buyers are typically not interested in a home that may have had faulty or otherwise unregulated construction completed on the premises.
While it may seem unfair that a homeowner has to do the research for the prior owner's mistakes, it's the best way to keep themselves out of trouble when it comes time to the legality of their property. While a homeowner can sell their home as-is, they may still be held responsible if unpermitted work causes destruction to the surrounding property. Unfortunately, it can take a while for the mistakes of unpermitted work to make themselves known, so owners should never assume until they have a qualified inspector verify the safety of the structure.