Avoiding Building Inspectors/ Inspector Horror Stories

topic posted Mon, July 9, 2007 - 1:21 PM by  Matte
While reading about the Water heater problem, i started thinking about building inspectors. As a general rule i always try to avoid getting permits if i can. Sometimes i've succeeded. Sometimes i've failed. Does anybody have any tips on preventing unwanted visits from the building inspector? Or any stories about when you didn't manage to avoid the building inspector and it caused you problems?
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  • Unsu...
    I used to be that way. They one year I was planning on building a three bay garage with a 20 * 40 recreational deck ontop.

    I know that there was no way that a permit wasn't going to be needed. So I got one. The permit guys were just fine to deal with.
    After that I lose my fear of 'em and have got permits regularly.

    Usually they are OK people so long as you don't try to fool 'em hide shit or lie.

    Once an inspector told me to re-do a thing. I said OK and that was that.
    • I'm not saying that inspectors & their ilk are the spawn of Satan. However, there is the money issue. I don't quite understand why the city should get their cut of every improvement (or maintanance) i do on my house. And there's also the "none of their business" aspect. If i want to put a new roof on my house or garage, it's really none of their business. If i want to install a bathroom, again.. none of their business.
      • It all comes down to money/taxes... The building permit is really just a funnel for property tax assessment. See, they may not be able to reassess your property value for those new windows (right away) but they can see that they get their cut through the permit fees. Also any big renovations do of course trigger a reassessment. The other big reason for permits is of course... to suck off the swollen teat of the construction business.

        As to the original question... A couple things I'd suggest...
        1. Be on Very good terms with your neighbors. Many people are turned into code enforcement over some neighborhood squabble. If you have a major problem with a neighbor (there is one on every block) ALWAYS get a permit for visible work.
        2. Be aware of other construction projects around you... If your neighbor is having work done... don't have a project underway or visible while they are getting their place inspected.
        3. Don't leave piles... cover your tracks. Be it garbage, shingles, wood, rocks, whatever, cover them if you can't get rid of them...
        4. Careful with garbage. As a young man I once disposed of about 3 tons of lathe and plaster through the municipal garbage cans, (Each full can musta weighed about 200 lbs) one at a time for months. Can't believe now that I didn't get nailed. for that)
        5. Don't leave up tools, ladders or any sign of ongoing work between work periods. Thats how I got busted once for roof repairs... cause I left a ladder up for one day!
        6. Don't leave projects half finished for long periods... the longer it is in process the more vulnerable you are... once done... you can claim... "It was always like this, I just repainted it"
        7. Build to code or better regardless of whther you permit it, document it if you can , pictures, specs, ... its better than having to tear it out if caught. (pictures may not save you but they may help)

        Personally I agree with the none of their business point. Its not... but they want their slice of the pie

        • Funny, i posted this in another topic. I also got busted for leaving my ladder up after i was done with my roof.
          • Yup, in my case there was a overzealous code enforcement inspector that was making rounds... she "saw the ladder" and came onto my driveway where she "saw roofing materials and supplies" behind my fence then she looked further and red-tagged me. I heard that she was not popular in the county and I believe is no longer with the county as she was pushing the rules as far as entering peoples properties to "look for violations". The building inspectors knew of her reputation and would actually apologize for her. Saying things like "thtas so minor I wouldn't normally bother with it, but she reported it so I have to. "
            • Unsu...
              Wait a minute~~~~~

              She saw supplies and you got red tagged?? What is a red tag and did it cost you anything?

              There is no permit required to purchase and possess supplies.

              I am somewhat sure that there is no permit to install all the plumbing and electrical in a building sans permit - - just so long as no actual hook up to power or water etc is ever made. I'm sure it's a close call that most inspectors and code people are not equipped to make and they would most likely err on the side of the town but - - - -

              I could be wrong about hanging pipe and wire without any hookup - not having researched it and ( of course) the different states will have different regulatory schemes but - -

              • Yup,
                She saw the ladder, walked into my yard, saw a half palette of shingles and some rolls of roof paper, then walked around to the side of my yard where she could see over my fence, and saw a pile of removed shingles... looked up on the roof and ... red-tagged me...

                Meaning stop all waork on house, pay fine, pay permit and then proceed. The "red tag" cost me about $1200 (four times the permit cost plus the fee for the original permit.
                • <<Meaning stop all waork on house, pay fine, pay permit and then proceed. The "red tag" cost me about $1200 (four times the permit cost plus the fee for the original permit.>>

                  Yikes !
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    Agreed! That is a huge fine. But when i stop and think for a second, if that was four times the cost of the permit, that means a permit for roofing your house was going to run you $300? I can't remember what i paid to do my roof, but i'm pretty sure it wasn't $300. That's outrageous!
                    • Well in california... They base the permit fee as a function of "what a contractor would charge to do X quality of work"

                      now "X" quality is rated something like... average, better and craftsman... why you ask? well I found out why.

                      When asking about the roof they ask the 1. square footage I had ~ 1800 sq. ft (18 squares) 2. the type of material and 3. any skylights?

                      When I said I used 40 year "lifetime guarantee" shingles the percentage they base the fee on went up. In other words... Tell them you are doing a crappy job and using cheap-assed materials... and the permit will be cheaper...

                      Ain't that just grand!?!?

                      In other words... a homeowner that does "craftsman level work" on his house could be charged the permit cost it would take to pay a craftsman to do said work.

                      Thats why IMHO ... Fuck da Man whenever you can
                    • I looked original permit was $242 that was for 18 sq. "better quality" and 3 skylights

                      The fine was 3 times the permit, plus the permit, plus $250 for the "placement of the red tag by the inspector".
                      BTW they have discretion to make the fine between 4 and 10 times the permit cost... heir discretion includes such weighty concerns as if they have had a bad hair day, they don't like your Shirt, they had a fight with their spouse last week and you remind them of them...... basically they can determine the fine on a whim. B
                      • Dano Sorry to hear about the excessive charges you've had to deal with. Those charges, however, are written in to your city/county building ordinance and are not the fault of the codes in general. The I Codes generally suggest a fee equal to twice the permit fee for work started without a permit. Maybe you should talk to your city councilman or county commissioner and have that changed or at least clarified.
                        • In Sonoma County... Minmum penalty is 3x (up to 10x) and from what I hear they generally keep it at the minimum... In San Fran County the Minimum is 4x the permit. IMO it would be a great thing to remedy the building permit structure to not penalize DIYers (essentially tax them on their own labor)... unfortunately... That will NEVER happen unless a grassroots movement can swing a pretty big stick with both local and state governments.
              • Unsu...
                personally I think dealing with building inspectors is no big deal. The county inspector we have has helped us out a lot on stuff we're doing around the place. I guess nobody wants to pay more taxes and I can see that argument. I can also relate to Matte's "none of their business" idea except for one thing. What if some amatuer builds a roof over bedrooms without a permit or inspections. Nothing ever happens. Cool. What if some lady and her kids buy the house and get hit with a heavy snow which collapses the roof and kills her kids? I know, worst case, but there are a lot of morons building things out there that could burn up, collapse, blow up, fall over, etc. Wouldn't it be simpler just to know its right by getting a permit and having an inspection?
              • Hey Cliff Most jurisdictions using the "I Codes" require a permit for any plumbing, electrical, mechanical, etc. regardless whether
                you plan to connect to public utilities or not. If work is being done then sooner or later the plumbing, electrical, etc. will be used but by then everything may already be covered up. Doesn't matter whether the source is private or public. Electricity can kill you just a quickly from a generator panel as from the grid. It's a question of intent. You're correct about just having materials on the jobsite. No permit for that.
        • Dano is offering some good advice about how to avoid inspectors. One thing that I would like to add and it's important from a legal perspective and it's this. Any inspector who addresses any project by posting a stop work order (red tag), a correction notice, mailed or posted, or causes any official notice to be sent to the property owner must have clearly observed the unpermitted work from a public location or from a private location with the permission of the owner of that location. Rumors, guesses, or walking around uninvited on private property to observe any work is legally untenable. You have a right to refuse any requests to enter your property by inspectors or other code enforcement personnel. If you do refuse access keep in mind, however, that the inspector can return in a few days with an inspection warrant assuming he had shown substantial cause to suspect work is proceeding without a permit to a municipal court judge.
          • I'm most certain that the Uniform Building Code adopted by most municiplities, allows a building or fire inspector to enter private property without your consent in order to inspect for violations that endanger the public. It has been challenged, but it would be your bucks fighting those of the community. OSHA can walk right in as well. An inspector or fire marshall can also have your utilities shut off

            Like the old saying goes. Arguing with a building inspector is like wrestling a pig in mud. The pig enjoys it and you get dirty.
            • "I'm most certain that the Uniform Building Code .....allows a building or fire inspector to enter the property without your consent.."
              Sola. You are incorrect about this. First we're talking about single family structures here, not commercial. How can a single family structure directly "endanger the public"? Next, the Uniform Building Code went out of existence, for the most part, in 1997, and was replaced by the International Building and Residential Codes. There are some jurisdictions that are still on the '97 or the '94 UBC but not too many. When it comes to residences the key issue here is due process. A building inspector typically cannot enter a property without the owners consent and because of "due process" needs to show cause as to why an inspection warrant is needed if that consent is not forthcoming. You are correct in saying the jurisdiction can have utilities shut off but, again, only for cause and only after due process unless the situation is dire such as a gas leak or other impending risk. Any call a building inspector makes can be challenged by a contractor or homeowner if unreasonable or unsupportable by local ordinances and can ultimately be dealt with in the Board of Appeals process which has final say in the matter.
  • ahhhhh man i am feeling so good because yesterday afternoon the 2 story addition ive been working on for 6 months passed final inspection!
    (pop goes the champagne)

    I was running around doing punchlist items like a chicken with it's head cut off when the inspector showed up. He proceeded to point out 3 or 4 obvious problems (no sheetrock on a new wall in the basement, handrails needed to be returned at the ends, and so on... it was NOT going very well. But a few minutes later, as he was telling us that we really need to get these things done, he signed us off! wow... there is a God.

    its not the inspector that we hate so much... altho he *can* be a total prick ( this guy was all business, pretty gruff)

    its the beaurocracy that really makes us want to commit suicide. more on that when i have experience with the city.
    • Adam It's obvious to me that the inspector and you had developed a good relationship early on or he would have called for a reinspection on the final. Also, there were probably no life/safety concerns so his risk was minimal. One thing I'm interested in knowing, however, is why he asked for sheet rock on the basement walls? Were your plans engineered?
      • "One thing I'm interested in knowing, however, is why he asked for sheet rock on the basement walls?"

        county fire codes required this wall to have a "1 hour" fire rating/

        Were your plans engineered?

        yes, but there were only plans for the addition. any work that happened inside the existing house pretty much happened without any plans at all...of course this work was very minimal and non structural.

        also fyi: the addition was built with Structurally Integrated Panels (SIPs), and we installed a grey water rain catchment system...
        • Unsu...
          hey Adam. thanks for your response. that the county required a one hr wall in the basement is pretty strange. Typically there are only two places where a "1 hr" separation is required in a single family home. Usable space under a stairway is one and the wall between an attached garage and the residence is the other. On occasions where the structure is closer than 5' to a property line a rated wall is required but then there are setback problems which take precedent over that. Even then on the first two incidences it isn't really a 1 hr wall because only one layer of 5/8 type X drywall is specified by the code. A true 1 hr wall using gyp board is one layer 5/8 type X on each side of any given wall generally.
          • Unsu...
            Leon explained this and some other code stuff to me this morning and its pretty interesting. I hope I got it right so let me know Leon when you get back. meantime I have some questions about the IRC when you get a chance. Thanks BH
            • This is some great information. Appreciate the tips. I think the pictures one is a great idea.

              Also the info on inspectors rights is good to know, but once they're onto you.. you're pretty much screwed. Whether they legally found your work or not, they found it and they're sure to pursue it.
            • Ok Billy boy. I see you're doing my job for me in my absence. Maybe if/ when you ever get tired of ranching you might consider Butte College in California. They offer an intensive building inspection program that you might be interested in. Check it out. Any questions about the IRC just submit via email and I'll answer asap.

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