New owner can lose permit over illegal addition

February 20, 2009


It may seem unfair, but government inspectors are allowed to revoke a new owner’s home-improvement permit after discovering that the previous owner made an illegal addition.

I purchased a small house last spring, and recently obtained a permit from the local Building Department to add another bedroom. Construction began last month, but the city inspector who came out a few days ago to approve the new room’s foundation halted the work after noticing that the second bathroom the seller added in 2007 was never permitted and is not up to our area’s building codes. Is it legal for a city inspector to suspend or revoke the permit that was issued to me, just because the previous owner did not get a permit for the bathroom she added two years ago? Can I sue the seller for the (estimated) $2,200 in improvements it would take to bring the bathroom she added “up to code,” even though I purchased the home on an as-is basis and did not know that the bathroom was built without the city’s permission?

The city is legally allowed to suspend or revoke your new building permit until the rest of the house is brought up to meet local codes. The city inspector’s primary job is to ensure that your current home is safe and habitable: Additions or other improvements can’t be made until old problems are fixed.

Right or wrong, the city cannot be held liable for a permit that it issued to you but then cancels after finding illegal changes made by the previous owner.

The good news is that you can sue the seller in small claims court and probably win, even though you purchased the home as is. That’s because the seller obviously added the second bathroom without a permit and then failed to tell you about it in the disclosure statement that she signed when selling the property to you last year. Previous court rulings have determined that sellers can’t get off the hook for needed repairs simply by claiming that the property was sold on an as-is basis, unless they first divulged the home’s shortcomings to the buyer before the purchase offer is accepted.

If the seller won’t pay for the repairs needed to bring the house to code, perhaps the private home inspector that you (hopefully) hired when you purchased the property will do it for you. Although some courts have ruled that private-sector inspectors are not expected to know the precise details of local housing laws, many judges have decided that an inspector can be held financially liable if he or she overlooked an obvious problem — such as a serious electrical or roofing issue in a room that was added without proper permits. Talk to a real estate attorney for details.

We love your real estate column in the newspaper. Have you ever thought about doing a TV show?

Thank you for your compliment, as well as your suggestion.

I have thought about doing a television show and have even received a few offers from local stations. But anyone who has ever met me would likely agree that my voice is perfect for mime and my face is made for radio, so I’ll stick to simply writing this housing column for your local paper.

I bought a condominium last year. Can I deduct the $205-per-month dues that I pay to our homeowners’ association on my income-tax return?

No. The money that you’re paying to your HOA is being used to maintain your property’s value by cutting the grass, sweeping the yard and maybe even cleaning the development’s common pool or spa.

Such maintenance charges are not deductible, the Internal Revenue Service says, unless the home is rented to tenants and thus qualifies as an income-producing property rather than a personal residence.

If it’s any solace, owners of single-family homes cannot deduct the cost of hiring a gardener or pool cleaner either.


lapiloto 7 years, 5 months ago

We are in the same boat but wondering what our options are- it was a Fannie Mae foreclosure and there were no disclosures.... it was listed as a 3 BR 2 BA but the septic permit is only good for 1BR/1BA 2 people. Come to find out now that the 2 additional beds and bath were never permitted... do we have any recourse against Fannie Mae?

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