Real Estate in Sarasota, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch
Diane Christner

The house I want to buy has a garage conversion done without permits. What do I do?

 Unfortunately the situation happens in our area more than you would think, especially when older homes are involved.   You’re out looking at homes and fall in love with a particular home that seems to have everything you want and one thing you did not expect — that 3rd bedroom and extra bathroom were done without the required building permits.
The state of FL has building code requirements, as does Sarasota county.    How big a problem could that unpermitted work become?  The answer:  bigger than you may expect.
If you purchase a property that had remodeling work done that was done without permits when permits were required, the building department has the authority to force the “current owner” of record to obtain the required permits and satisfy ALL code requirements.  Doesn’t matter which previous owner did the unauthorized work, current owner becomes responsible.  Once you close on the purchase of that property you are now the “current owner” who is now financially liable.
So what can the building department do if they discover there was remodeling done without permits when permits were required?  First, the building department can assess penalties on you the current owner for non-compliance.  Applying for a permit after the fact is not necessarily an easy procedure.   If construction documents and inspections would have been required to satisfy the original permit, those items must now be obtained as well.  Walls may need to be opened to inspect electrical and plumbing.  Inspectors will not assume everything was done according to code, they will want verification.  You may have to get an architect, an engineer and/or a general contractor involved in the inspection process, depending on what type of work was done without permits and documentation required to obtain the permits.
Another issue is that the work that was done must meet CURRENT code, not the code applicable when the unpermitted work was originally done.
If the work completed is not to code, the building department can and has required you the “current owner” to remove the entire unpermitted project.  That additional bedroom with bath may have to be gutted and turned back into a garage at your expense, costing you money and living space.
If the home is on a septic system, the additional living square footage may create an entirely different set of problems to do with the size of the drain field and whether it is sufficient to handle an additional bath.
Insurance can become another issue.  If any of the work done without permits is not to code it may impact your ability as a buyer to get hazard insurance on the property. I have been involved in a couple of closings where that happened. The sellers ended up having to pay to have the electrical and/or plumbing work redone, with permits, before the buyers would/could close.

Insurance companies are also getting pickier about permits in general, especially as it pertains to electrical and plumbing work. More than one insurance agent within the past couple of years has told me that should a homeowner file a claim because of damage caused by unpermitted work (when permits were required), the insurance company may deny payment of the claim based on the failure to obtain proper permits to ensure the work was done to code. I do not know if this is industry wide.

So what does this all mean to a home buyer?  If you are getting financing, the appraiser will use the “official” information provided by the property appraiser’s office for number of bedrooms & baths, living square footage.  That unpermitted additional bedroom/bath will not be included in calculating the appraised value of the home.  Finding insurance may also be difficult.  If you are a cash purchaser, appraisals are not required, nor are you required to carry hazard insurance on the home.  However, if you decide at some point in time into the future to sell that home you will have to disclose to buyers that you have knowledge that work was done on the home without required permits.  Potential buyers will most likely either want a deep discount on the price to compensate for the lack of permits or, more likely, want the seller to fix the issue by getting the required permits retroactively.
Think carefully about the total expenses involved in buying a home with permitting issues, not just the asking price, before signing a contract.  You may be glad that you did.


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About Diane Christner

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Diane Christner


941-877-6852941-877-6852 main

Bright Realty

5218 Station Way Sarasota, FL 34233

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