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Saturday 02 July 2005

Cause and Effect, Part II

In the Washington Post today:

After returning from his job as a writer for the American Civil Liberties Union one evening this spring, William Potter grabbed an iron pry bar and, with a few whacks, demolished the kitchen of his Petworth rowhouse.

I wonder whether he’s got a permit for that?

For Potter, 25, this act of destruction was just another thing he thought he would never accomplish so early in life. He certainly didn’t think so a year ago, when he was living frugally in a group house in Mount Pleasant and saving for a down payment. Now the first-time homeowner has a second job: rehabbing his house to a livable standard.

Because you can’t have people just rehabbing things to a livable standard without the proper paperwork. But rehab they will, because for some reason things that have been rehabbed are amazingly expensive. I wonder why that might be?

Posted by tino at 11:26 2.07.05
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A note on permits: rehabbing is generally an updating process, replacing existing infrastucture with newer stuff. 99% of the time you don’t need permits to replace your cabinetry, sinks, rotted wood, drywall for plaster, etc. In most places, replacing a deck with new wood isn’t gonna neccesitate permit work either.

Adding a new bathroom or finishing the attic is not rehabbing. Replacing the electrical and plumbing is rehabbing, an can be a grey area permit wise.

“because for some reason things that have been rehabbed are amazingly expensive. I wonder why that might be?”

Homeowners insurance on houses over 50 years old incurr a premium. I wonder why that might be?

Posted by: dg at July 4, 2005 09:40 AM

It really depends upon the town. When I used to live in Novato, California, I replaced by old countertops (fake butcher block). When I sold the place a few years later, I somehow got the same city inspector that examined my place when I bought it and he noticed the ugly fake butcher block was gone and hit me with a fine for replacing it without a permit. I couldn’t believe it, but looked it up in the building code and, yep, it specifically mentioned countertops. So, I had to get an “after-the-fact” permit, which is racket anyway, to ensure that I had a clean inspection.

From an attorney’s point of view, I’m always uneasy when people hiring contractors, subs, etc., but don’t bother to get permits. Any “unclean hands” on the homeowners’ part may mean difficulty enforcing contracts down the line.

Posted by: Shaye at July 5, 2005 11:35 AM

I’m not, I suppose, against all systems of building permits. Certain construction projects might result in unsafe conditions that a layperson wouldn’t be able to diagnose on his or her own (or that even an expert couldn’t spot once the walls are closed up), thus making enforcement by the market a difficult proposition.

Certain other projects (i.e. outside ones) might annoy the neighbors, and so a system to lay down rules for what you can do, and when, might be justifiable in an area where people are packed close together.

But try as I might, I cannot come up with any kind of justification for regulating the installation of countertops in any way. Are they level? Firmly attached? If not, the market will punish you when you try to sell the house.

Posted by: Tino at July 5, 2005 01:35 PM