It's usually much more time consuming and costly to get a permit post-completion, than it would have been to get it in the first place. Getting a permit requires a plan that meets the existing codes set by the building department. The fact that the previous owner did not get a permit is a bit of a red flag. And the interesting point about this is, the permit is the least costly aspect of the construction. The message is: get your permits in advance!
Thumbs up to Joe Nernberg, whose advice is always to the point. He describes a situation similar to one my clients recently faced. The more they opened walls for inspections, the greater the scope of work became, because nothing inside the walls can be grandfathered in.
But now to your situation. The following are steps in your process.
First, investigation. There are several things to be concerned about:
1. What are the dates (commencement and completion) of the construction? This information gives you a good idea of what codes the addition was built under, in the very best of circumstances.
2. Was the work done by a licensed contractor?
3. Is there a set of plans to support the remodel, drawn by an architect or engineer? Does the completed work match the plans? (see #4 and 5 next)
4. Does the physical structure of the remodel (walls, windows, ceiling heights, etc) conform to current codes? Was anything necessary for code removed, altered or diminished to create the new room? (Such as a garage or a setback)
5. Do the underlying systems (plumbing, heating, electrical, drainage) conform to current codes?
Once you have answered the above, your next steps include some or all of the following:
1. You will need a current set of plans to be approved by your local building and safety. They will need to be drawn and submitted by an authority recognized by your building and safety department.
2. You'll need to pay any necessary fees, local taxes, and fines in order to obtain your permit.
3. You will then have a series of inspections based on the scope of the work necessary to bring your project to current code.
4. You may need to open walls, remove fixtures, etc. to assure the inspector that the work done is to code.
The risk in accepting a property without a permit? If you, or anyone you sell the property to down the road, decide to add on or remodel, and the inspector discovers the un-permitted work, you may be asked to bring it to code as part of the scope of the work, before they will issue a certificate of occupancy on any future remodel.
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Cut and paste that link in your browser to go to a guide published by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. It can be a very complicated and frustrating process, but it is not always so. There are two parts to the process: Plan Check, and Inspections. The difference with retroactively getting a permit finaled is mostly in the inspection process. The inspectors have some latitude in deciding how difficult your life is going to be. They can make you expose existing foundation footings. . .or not. They can make you open up a wall to see how the plumbing vent is routed. . .or not. The plan check engineers do not have the same kind of latitude and, generally, to get any kind of accomodation from them you have to go up the chain of command, and even then you probably won't get much satisfaction. If the plan checkers okay a plan with building and zoning code violations they put themselves and the City at risk.
My experience, both as a Realtor and a general contractor, is that the plan checkers are difficult and the inspectors are not - if you approach them in good faith with the attitude that you want to do the right thing and make this a safe and legal living area. If you come at them with a bad attitude you will get the same right back - and they hold all the cards in this game.
If you want to know how much trouble this is going to be you can always go down to Building and Safety and speak to a counter plan checker. The easiet office to use is downtown; 201 N. Figueroa St. Go early in the morning, not on Wednesday, bring quarters for the meters on the street just west of Figueroa, or be prepared to pay at least $7 to park in the building. B&S is on the 4th floor, tell the receptionist what you want to do and he or she will send you to the right place. You may also want to go to the Records Dept. in the lobby and see what existing permits you can find. You may be surprised. Speaking with a plan checker will not, in my experience, trigger an inforcement action.
Feel free to call me if you want a more specific answer to your particular situation. My office number is 323-665-1108
Sotheby's International Realty, Inc.
Let me draw a situation. Suppose the additions met or exceeded industry standards when the unpermitted work was done. The municipal inspector has to inspect it today like it didn't exist - no grandfathering or forgiveness. How will the city know if the wiring was properly installed inside walls? At least a few sections of the addition needs to be opened up to evaluate code compliance. Throw in some questions about footings, framing details and plumbing. Will your homeowners insurance cover unpermitted work if there is a fire? Could be messy.
Some people choose to ignore the permit process. Speak to a lawyer, your real estate professional and a qualified contractor.