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Advice - Contractor did not pull permits (Northern VA)

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 
I am in need of some advice from the experts concerning permits (or lack there of). I moved into a new contruction single family home in Northern Virginia, and within a few weeks of moving in I had the basement completely finished w/a home theater and wet bar. To make a long story short the contractor did not pull a single permit.

I am now reading horror stories that say the county can basically tell me to do anything from cutting a few holes in the drywall so they inspect to tearing down the entire basement, plus any fines that they deem neccessary. The company I had to do the basement had a good reputation and is licensed, bonded and insured. I do not want to go to the county and muddy up the waters just yet. I want to make sure I have my ducks in a row.

What should I do to get this resolved, should I talk to a lawyer to see what I can do. If I was going to stay in the house for a while I wouldn't be concerned but I plan on selling the place in a few years...

Thanks for any help you can provide.....
post #2 of 40
DId you take pics during construction?
post #3 of 40
Did your contract with the builder include permits? Some contractors like to have the home owners puill the permits so that they are not responsible for them. I know because in VA I had to have that discussion with a contractor who did not want to pull the permits. Ultimately if the contractor pulls it he's responsible by va law at least in henrico.

But if the homeowner pulls it, he is responsible for the permit.
post #4 of 40
1)Do not go to the county. It will cost you grief and raise your taxes. You want to resolve this off line so to speak.

2) Read up on the county code (website usually) to determine if the contractor took any short cuts that might be safety issues.

Pay attention to the electrical circuit section. Such as size of wire used. Location of receptacles, Protected circuits used near water, Smoke alarms. Get a cheap circuit tester at HD ($10 or less) plug it into every outlet to make sure it was wired properly. Make sure all new circuits added are labeled in the circuit breaker box.

There should not be any exposed bulb lighting in closets.

Other things of major importance would be provision for ventilation of rooms containing gas fired furnaces or hot water heaters. Verify the adequacy of emergency exit (size and location of door/windows etc).

Other minor issues would be the proper venting of any drain lines so that water drains properly. You could also try to peek into the walls (remove covers to electrical boxes and look between the electrical box and drywall to see if insulation is in place.

3)You may want to hire a private inspector if you don't want to study up on code to inspect the work ($300 guesstimate)

4) Any violations found by the private inspector should be discussed with the contractor and you can threaten to report them to the County for lack of compliance. Of course you never want to do this, you just want them remedied.
post #5 of 40
I would recommend contacting an attorney licensed in VA that has zoning/building code experience. They shouldn't charge you for the initial consultation and you can figure out (with some authority) whether you need to do something or not.
post #6 of 40
Thread Starter 
I did take a few pictures, but nothing in too great of detail....

Here is the excerpt from the contract....
"We propose hereby to furnish material and labor in accordance with specification listed below for the sum of TWENTY EIGHT THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED AND EIGHTY DOLLARS ($28, 680.00). All material is guaranteed to be as specified. All work to be completed in workmanlike manner according to standard practices. Any alteration or deviation from specification below involving extra costs will be executed only upon written orders, and will become an extra charge over and above the estimate."

After some of your answers I am a little worried, I may be liable for this.

Is there anything that I can do. Like I said before I do not want to go to the county before I have my ducks in a row.

Thanks again for any help..
post #7 of 40
You need to relax a little. A lot of work in basements goes on without permit or inspections. If it is a reputable contractor they Probably haven't put you in danger.

Even inspections aren't perfect. A neighbors house was inspected by the county and it still burned down the first day he moved in because the fireplace venting was not done correctly.
post #8 of 40
Another idea is if your Home Theater is set up if you want to host a meeting with some of the other NoVA DIY theater builders. We can bring our experience with codes and inspections to your place and give you our opinion of the work completed. You'd be surprised how many there are of us and how many theaters/basements have been built.

Then we get a chance to see your theater and talk about our experiences.
post #9 of 40
Thread Starter 
Bigmouth, I do need to relax. I read some of the horror stories and saw my home theater flash before my eyes. I really do like the job that the company did. Whatever picture I showed them they did it.

I am getting some other things finished in the house, but that is a great idea of hosting a meeting with NOVA theater builders. I will try and plan that for the end of April/ beginning of May

I hope some people can make the drive. I hate to even tell you where I live.......Stafford.

I moved from Crystal city to stafford, my commute went from 8 minutes to 1.5 hours.........my home theater is all I had to look forward to...
post #10 of 40
OK it's about an hour from my house. What projector did you get? I need to get interested. Still got the 77? I have the 79.

I'm starting to think of my next upgrades and need to do some research. If you'd get the RS1 I'll even come down during rush hour.
post #11 of 40
Thread Starter 
You must be a psychic, a guy at work is getting one (RS1) and I was inquiring if I he could get me one also. I will keep you guys posted.....Thanks again...
post #12 of 40
Don't ask, don't tell. Big brother can't watch what they can't see.
So shut up about it!
post #13 of 40
In VA, when you sell your home, you'll be asked to sign a statement that says there has been no work done on your home, subject to inspections, that has been done without permits and inspections. If you know of non-permited work, you have to disclose that.
post #14 of 40
Thread Starter 
If I was going to stay in this area, I would not think twice about getting a permit, but I plan on moving out of this area in a few years.....Having said that I plan on letting the county know right before I sell the house.

I will probably hire an outside inspector and have them see if there is anything wrong with the work....
post #15 of 40
The problem with that plan is that if there is any faulty work, you will have a much more difficult time taking it out of the hide of the contractor. Not saying it's not the best plan, but just be aware that any fixes will be entirely on you.
post #16 of 40
With all due respect to Dennis E., the form he refers to is optional, "Virginia Residential Real Estate Sales Disclosure Statement". Instead, use the "Virginia Residential Real Estate Disclaimer Statement", which states that you make no representation as to the condition of anything. In NC these are one in the same form, except under each question the answers are yes, no or no representation. Guess which is the most popular answer? Most all real estate transactions are "AS IS", which is why buyers elect to use home inspectors.
post #17 of 40
In North Carolina, the county keeps (rough) track of finished square footage. If you sell your house and the home inspector measures 3000 sq ft of finished space, but the county records say only 2000 sq ft, a lot of questions will get asked.

I agree with WatfordOrn. Contact a lawyer. I don't see how anyone could reasonably expect you to get the permits unless it was very explicitly spelled out in the contract. Even then, your contractor is the professional and he should have behaved in a professional manner by asking questions when no inspections were scheduled. He is the professional, he has the knowledge and experience to understand what is required. The burden is on him -- not you.

Don't let this sit too long. And don't bury your head in the sand. The problem won't go away and will likely become a major headache down the road. There may also be liability issues with your homeowner's insurance should a fire (or other catastrophy) start in the area finished by your contractor.

Also, I would not hire some other pro to verify his work. A legal arguement could be made that such an action means that you became aware of the problem and have assumed at least partial liability.

Talk to a lawyer.

My $.02

post #18 of 40
Have you called the contractor to get his side. If this was a older house where the tax records weren't accurate I wouldn't care as long as the work was done in accordance with the code. If the county tax records don't show a finished basement this can be a mess when you go to sell the house and the sellers can make an issue out of it.

I would be surprised if the contractor is legally allowed to do work when no permit has been pulled. Even if the contractor wanted you to pull the permits (which is BS) he would still need to arrange all of the inspections.
post #19 of 40
I agree with ksharp.......the contractor regardless of whether pulling permits or not 'knows' that inspections need to be done at precise points in the build.

When you sell and the county sees your selling with a finished basement you are bound to get challenged.

Personally I would talk to the contractor first and see his take (don't accept BS) and then talk to the county. At end of dat the contractor will need to prove & make good as necessary.

If you don't do it now - in two years time you will have less leverage with the contractor (if you can find him).

Or take chance that county don't notice and do as bfoster says and only sign "that you make no representation as to the condition of anything"
post #20 of 40
I think that I'd wait until I'm ready to sell and try to get an "as built" permit. I think it would be easier to get that in a couple of years without having to tear anything out than it would be now. If it's gone a couple of years without burning anything down, it might be easier to get passed "as built." Just play dumb saying "WHAT? The contractor didn't get a permit? I left that to him! I didn't know I was supposed to get it, etc etc etc" If you can show the contract it's at least proof that you hired someone to do it to support your story. Then they have confidence that it's not a Harry Homeowner (hey! Anybody around NO. VA remember him?) DIY so they might be more willing ot pass it.

Just my .02

post #21 of 40
Having slept on this problem and reading some of the other thoughts. I think the first thing I would do is make an anonymous call to to the Stafford county offices and talk to someone about your situation. I'm sure this is not a new problem for them and they may have a step by step process they recommend.

I think you are in an excellent position to force the contractor to do whatever it takes to get the basement approved by the county at their expense, but I would do it immediately.
post #22 of 40
Just don't call from your own phone - they might have caller ID
post #23 of 40
When I sold my house in VA, the form was not optional, and, while I could claim I was not aware of any violations, it was required that I disclose any major work done on the house. Now, that might be a county to county matter or the law has changed.
post #24 of 40
I have sold 3 houses in VA, not one required that disclosure, and all of them had ~700 sq finish square feet added to them by me.
post #25 of 40
What is the right thing to do?
What is ethical?
What would your response be were you on the receiving end of a house done this way?
Will you be able to sleep at night?

Do the right thing. Call the county and the contractor both.
Get it resolved.
Do the right thing.

post #26 of 40
Originally Posted by ArmyMan View Post

What is the right thing to do?
What is ethical?
What would your response be were you on the receiving end of a house done this way?
Will you be able to sleep at night?

Do the right thing. Call the county and the contractor both.
Get it resolved.
Do the right thing.


#1) Depends on the person. As long as I felt I everything was done to code, I'd have no issue.

#2) Thank god you didn't do the paperwork, you're saving me $1-2k per year in taxes.

#3) Depends on how scary the movie I just watched in my nice home theater was

I just moved from a house in NE PA. I bought the house (first house) before I knew anything about construction, etc. Turned out, the previous owner had added an addition on, in the tune of about 1500sqft. I had no idea, neither did the county. My taxes were $1500 instead of $5000 and I lived there without issue for two years.... I heard a short while after I moved the entire county was reassessed though, I'm sure the taxes went up at that point.

Now don't get me wrong, I would agree with filing for any additions to a home. At that point you'd have to worry about load bearing, etc. But for a basement project... I don't see the need as long as you make sure everything was followed to code.

post #27 of 40
As long as there was no bedroom installed you should be okay. The only way you would get dinged is with the county tax assessor. Permitting is a way to keep track of improvements on property for tax assessment purposes. Most tax assessors now just do a drive by and assess using comparable in the neighborhood. Now if there was a bedroom added; you will not be able to sell the house with that additional bedroom. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) Your property may not perk for the additional occupant; 2) The water and sewer load on the house may not accommodate the additional use; 3) There may not be proper egress for the additional bedroom. A lot of times you can get around the use of a permit by claiming you were just swapping finishes. For example; if there were already studs in place you could just hang drywall; and claim that you did not add anything structural just finishes. I think you got a deal at 28k for a finished basement; and as long as you do not have an additional bedroom; there is no issue with your contractor not pulling a permit.
post #28 of 40
another first time poster in a five year dead thread, welcome Crixus.
post #29 of 40
I was hoping for some closure.
post #30 of 40
What? Is this Bridget Jones Diary, now?
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