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KASS: Making improvements without getting permits

Q:   A dear friend of mine has made significant changes to her home: she knocked down a wall, vaulted the ceiling of the resulting larger room, wired lights into the new ceiling, and installed a hardwood floor. All this was done without pulling local building permits. When, if ever, might she experience repercussions from not pulling permits and what might those repercussions be? What advice would you offer her at this point (with everything completed)? Liz.

 

A:     Dear Liz: There are several repercussions. First, if there is a fire from the electrical work, and if the insurance company learns that no permits were pulled, your “dear friend” may not get any insurance money. Second, if the house is on the market for sale, potential buyers may be turned off when they learn the facts. More significantly, if someone buys, and then has a problem, your friend can be sued for failure to disclose there were no permits.

To my knowledge, it is easy for anyone with a computer to learn whether permits have in fact been pulled. For example, here in the District of Columbia where I practice law, all I have to do is type in PIVS (property information verification system) and I can learn more than I really need to know about a particular property.

What should your friend do? She should hire an experienced contractor who can (1) inspect the work (this may require some destructive testing), and then (2) arrange for the local government agency to review the situation. To my knowledge, it is possible to backdate the permits once everyone has inspected and is satisfied that the work was done properly.

 

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Q: In our area there are several four-flats (condo) buildings. It appears they are managed by one or two management companies.

Here’s my question. Let’s look at one four-flat building. If I bought one condo, then another, then another, then the last one – buying and owning all four condos as they came on the market. Would I own the entire building or just the four condos? I’d like to own the entire building but I have to wait for each of the condos to come on the market. Jamie.

A:       Dear Jamie: if there are four units in the condominium association, you end up owning all four units. Once you own everyone, you can rent or sell all four individually or collectively. Or you can rent or sell unit by unit.

Alternatively, if you want – and based on your concerns about the inter-dependance of everyone concerned– you have the right (as the owner of all four condo owners) to terminate the condominium association and sell the entire property. Or you can sell off two or three and rent one, or just get off the board and don’t worry about what the current board is doing.

In other words, once you own all four units in that four-unit building, you have right to do whatever you believe is reasonable.

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OF INTEREST

I write this February column on the last day of 2017. Over the years, many readers have asked me if I have some good suggestions for real-estate movies. Here are some of my favorites: “Field of Dreams,” “Inherent Vice” and “The Money Pit,” and, of course, “Gone with the Wind.” One movie is often recommended to clients planning to rent their property is “Pacific Heights” – not my favorite but good for educating potential landlords.

 

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