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Robert Lamoureux: On the hook for permit issues?

Your Home Improvements

Posted: May 22, 2009 2:55 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Hi Robert,
We enjoy reading your very informative column. In 2006 we hired a local, reputable and licensed contractor for a major remodel of our home. Interior work included the addition of electrical outlets, wiring for ceiling fans, installation of an electric whirlpool bathtub (in a bathroom previously containing only a shower unit), removal of a non-load-bearing interior wall and installation of new doors and windows throughout. Outside, electrical light fixtures were installed onto our patio cover. I am mentioning these specific items because these are listed on Santa Clarita’s Building & Safety Web site  ( as changes that require a permit.

When we asked our contractor, upon completion of the work, when the city would perform the inspection, he responded that since the structure of the house was not affected, no permit or inspection were necessary. (The plumbing subcontractor who did the re-pipe at this same time also neglected to pull a permit, but after completion, did secure a permit and the city did the inspection.)  

We are very concerned that this will become a problem upon sale of our home. Was the contractor correct, or should he have pulled a permit? (He knew enough to pull a permit in 2004 when he re-roofed the house.) If a permit should have been pulled, what can be done at this time to remedy the situation? If additional costs must be incurred, is the contractor responsible? We would greatly appreciate your advice.

Hi G.B
You absolutely need to have permits. Even if you change a wax ring on a toilet, the inspector will want to see that ring in place before you set the toilet. You need a permit for just about everything you do. The bottom line is that entity is known as the Department of Building and Safety. Safety is a big word. They have as much if not more authority than the Fire Department when it comes to construction and safety issues. Building and Safety has the last say. The inspector is king and what he says is law. If the inspector were to say, “No, shut it down,” there is nothing that can go over his head and change the decision. If he deems a structure unsafe, then not even the Fire Department can override his call.  

So, you need all of the work you mentioned permitted. You also need a permit for the nailing patterns for the drywall work that was done. What if he did not use enough drywall screws or nails? I personally know of a man that was working on a job site and had temporarily nailed up the ceiling. He was sitting under the drywall having lunch when the sheet came down and broke his neck. Unfortunately, it was a fatal accident. It is critical that everything be inspected.
The electrical you mention is fire safety. Did he use the right wiring? The right gauge? This is why you can’t close up walls until the inspector verifies the work is to code.

I would call the contractor immediately and tell him he needs to pull permits and whatever he needs to do is his problem. He is responsible for any and all costs associated with this job.  It doesn’t matter that this work was done in 2006. Based on the actions of this contractor, don’t be surprised if he is nowhere to be found. The construction business tends to weed out those, eventually, that either don’t know any better or decide not to follow the rules to save a little money. If he has gone out of business, there is not much you can do by means of reparation. If so, call the building inspector and have him come to you home. Tell him you hired a contractor and paid him to do work that was never permitted or inspected. Explain to him you weren’t aware of Building and Safety laws and just discovered that permits were necessary.  

Dear Robert,
I live in an HOA and had a leak in my home.

I called a plumber to make the repairs, but then discover that I will not be reimbursed for the expenses because leaks are a homeowner responsibility. How could this possibly be my responsibility? What am I paying homeowners dues for?  I’m mad,
Monica E.

Hi Monica
This could be your responsibility if the CC & R’s — covenants, conditions and restrictions are written that way.

CC & R’s, as a rule are a boiler plate which are then individually adapted to different associations. Sometimes the HOA will hire an attorney and change the CC & R’s, if they have a majority vote from the homeowners. In your particular case, it may be that this boiler plate is so vague that members of your Board will make an interpretation of what it says. It may be that they were changed or interpreted or maybe it is clearly written that you are responsible for plumbing problems in your home. I am familiar with some associations where homes have individual shutoffs to the individual properties and that plumbing is a homeowner responsibility.

If your CC & R’s do not clearly state your responsibility in this regard, then you can file a complaint with the HOA. Some choose to hire an attorney. Most times, however, it’s better to bite the bullet, pay for the plumbing and save the attorney fees. You may win the battle but lose the war.

Mr. Lamoureux
I have a question for you. We purchased a home recently and were cleaning and spraying out the gutters. There was apparently some plant brackets mounted on the front of the house because we can see staining where they were as well as holes in the stucco. Water got inside these holes and our carpeting got wet. What would be the best material to use to seal the stucco? Thank you very much,
Colleen M.

Hi Colleen,
The problem is not the stucco but the damaged felt, or paper behind it. When the brackets were mounted on the wall, the felt was penetrated and this is what is allowing the water to get into your house. There are a couple of things you can do. Inexpensively, you can inject urethane caulk into the holes. I do not recommend this as it may or may not properly seal that paper internally and you will probably still have a water intrusion problem.

The right way would be to come in, chip out and remove the stucco from about one foot above and below the holes and about three feet wide. Then you would need to cut and install and under lap new felt. Then use black urethane caulk on all of the under lapping and cover every staple. Then reset your lath and re-stucco. Now that area won’t leak. Do it once, do it right.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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