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Robert Lamoureux: Buyer beware of unpermitted additions

Your Home Improvements

Posted: February 19, 2010 11:14 p.m.
Updated: February 20, 2010 4:55 a.m.
We have designed a custom, full color Signal / Your Home Improvements T-shirt that we will send to you, with our compliments, if we answer your question in our column. Thank you, Robert Lamoureux

I follow your columns regularly, and find them to be very informative and interesting. I have been shopping for a home in Los Angeles County, and frequently see the entry in listings that indicate an addition made on the property was "not permitted." I gather this was done without permits, but what are the practical implications of buying a home with such an addition or alteration? Thanks,
Richard L.

Hi Richard,
First and foremost, with no permits, you don't know if the additions were done to code - code meaning: safety. Is that structure safe? Was it put up properly? Were the footings put in correctly? Was there steel put in as needed? Were Simpson straps and ties used to secure the beams, or are they coming down in the next earthquake?

These are the questions you should be asking yourself. The major concern in my mind would be is it safe for my family to live there? Without permits, you don't know. No inspector was called out to verify what work was being done and until you get it inspected, you are taking a risk.

There are many codes to be aware of and abide by as set forth by the UBC (Universal Building Code), the NEC (National Electrical Code), and the UPC (Universal Plumbing Code), and these codes change and are updated about every five years.

Each city or municipality has the right to improve upon these national codes - but only if they increase, not decrease.

For example, let's say the UBC states that a sheer wall must have a thickness of 5/8 inch. The city of Beverly Hills has every right to mandate that sheer wall within its city limits will be 1 inch, improving by 3/8 inch.

In addition to the national and city codes, California warrants its own building codes, and some of the state's codes are among the strictest in the world due to the propensity for earthquakes. So unless they're faithful readers of this column, if your average homeowner puts in a non-permitted addition, chances are it will not pass an inspection.

One more thing to keep in mind is if you sign off on knowing the home has non-permitted additions - if an honest seller puts this in the disclosure documents, which you acknowledge as the buyer, then you become liable for those additions.

For example, a neighbor could call the city inspector and tell them you have a non-permitted room in your home. An inspection will not only require opening walls, but there is a strong possibility that the city will force you to take that addition down - at your expense.

If the seller did disclose no permits, and if anyone were to be injured by electrical problems or collapse or for any reason whatsoever due to a non-permitted addition in your home, you would be liable. If the seller did not disclose, then all liabilities would fall back on him.

Hi Robert:
I live in Saugus, the Galaxy track, where the homes all have subterranean areas. I crawl under two times a year to inspect under the house and notice on the footing walls in three areas are some pretty good cracks - I believe from the '94 earthquake.

What is the best way to repair this - or should I just leave it alone?

Phil T.

Hi Phil,
If the cracks are small, spider or hairline cracks, then these are generally nothing to be concerned with as it is the nature of concrete to crack.

If you believe the cracks to be from the Northridge quake, then by all means have them inspected. In order to make repair recommendations, I would specifics such as the width, length and direction of the cracks.

If the cracks are 1/4 inch or greater, then hire a contractor to come out for a visual inspection to give you a professional opinion. He will base his recommendations of repair on the width and depth of the cracks and whether they are horizontal, diagonal or vertical.

Hi Robert,
I read your column all of the time. I have some roofing problems that created a very large mess for us during the last rains. They sent a roofer out and he put plastic on the tiles, which have mostly blown off, and said he couldn't begin the repairs until the HOA gave him authorization to proceed with the work.

While I was talking to the HOA about this problem, which includes damage to my entryway ceiling, three walls and the floor, which has been removed because of warping, they told me that all the damage was my responsibility. I asked when the roof would be repaired and they said that was up to me because I would have to pay for the repairs. How is that possible? There are basically duplexes throughout the community, so I share a roof with the family next door. How can you tell me where my roof begins and theirs ends? Isn't a roof considered a common area? Please help.

Osa E.

Hi Osa,
The association is saying the roof is not their responsibility? And you have to pay for repairs and damages? I've been working with HOAs for 30 years and I find this difficult to believe, but you have to read the CC & R's. I would read through yours thoroughly. Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions are drafted by the developer through their legal department and generally speaking, they are boiler-plated from one HOA to the next.

If a particular HOA wants to make any changes, then the membership has to vote and overwhelmingly agree on that particular amendment of that line item or it is not passed.

The HOA preserves the architectural integrity of the community, providing a safe environment, maintaining common areas with a fiduciary responsibility to its residents.

If the HOA did not maintain common areas properly, which caused interior damage, then why should that be your responsibility? Does that mean they can let everything go and not be responsible for anything? Something is not right here.

You cannot own a common area element and not be responsible. If the association owns that roof, then they own any damage that roof causes.

I suggest you start putting all of your concerns and complaints in e-mails. Send these to the board of directors and see if they respond the same way in writing as they did over the phone. Document every problem with as much detail as possible. You could state in each letter that the reason you are writing is to create a paper trail to document your conversations with the board.

I think within a couple of days the roofer will arrive; then the drywallers and painters; then the flooring contractor. I'm sure everything is going to be fine.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. 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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