By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects
I would like to share a cautionary tale that came to our attention recently. The story starts with a project lead from a former client last spring. Our former client recommended us to his friend. The friend asked us to provide a proposal to add a second floor to his home. The friend had purchased a home “as is”, and it had an attic space that had been converted to a bedroom. In our professional opinion it was clearly an illegal remodel, including an exterior staircase (entrance) that did not conform to the building code. We advised the potential client that as part of the remodel we would have to address the illegal bedroom—either remove it or make corrections to legalize it. We included that as part of our proposal.
As often happens when potential clients hear “bad news”, even though we were highly recommended, we didn’t get the job. The friend went with another architect or designer who told them that it would be no problem and who probably offered a lower price due to the reduced scope of work. (We hope that the other architect was simply less experienced and not being intentionally misleading.) We usually never hear about those potential projects again.
In this case though, by a quirk of fate, we ran into a contractor who had submitted a bid for the remodel. The contractor said that the 2nd floor addition had been designed, and all of the construction documents had been drawn up by the other architect. The contractor had provided a bid for the project, but when the owner went to get a building permit, he was told that he would first have to deal with the illegal living space before a permit would be issued for the addition.
Therefore, the owner had paid his other design professional not only for the design, but also for drafting up a complete set of construction documents, before verifying that they could get a building permit. The 2nd floor addition will have to be redesigned in order to remove the exterior stair and accommodate other building code issues. This is going to be an expensive learning experience, and it was totally unnecessary.
If you purchased a property “as is”, and the City or County does not have the correct number of bedrooms and bathrooms on their property records, then you will have a problem that cannot be avoided. You can negotiate the price down when you are buying, knowing that you will have to mitigate the problem at some time in the future. If you have already purchased the property, then listen to honest and experienced professionals who tell you that the problem needs to be addressed. It will cost a bit more up front, but it will cost a lot less (in time and money) in the long run, to legalize the unpermitted portion of your home or commercial property. Even if “we told them so”, we get no satisfaction from hearing about these negative outcomes.
Please don’t forget that built spaces that are unpermitted are usually not covered by insurance. If anything happens to your building, the insurance company could use that clause to reduce or deny payment. It’s really important to build legally, for your own safety and that of your tenants.