Realtor.com quoted me in Final October Surprise: Clintons Make Untimely Mistake Renovating Their New Home. It opens,
This is proving to be the year that redefines the notion of the presidential campaigns’ “October Surprise.” First Donald Trump‘s hot mic/hot mess “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, followed by the ugly after affects. Then with just over a week to go before Election Day, Hillary Clinton‘s email woes returned, this time on Anthony Weiner‘s computer. Talk about lousy timing! Now, on the final day of October, one last surprise is rearing its head. Remember when the Clintons bought the home next door to their own in Chappaqua, NY, a few months back? Well, it turns out they renovated it without permits.
Breaking news alert!
According to public records, government officials received a complaint in early October about excavation happening at the Clintons’ new home. When an inspector arrived, he saw that a number of unpermitted upgrades were taking place, including a kitchen remodel and the installation of a new HVAC system.
Conspiracy theorists take note: Once the Clintons learned of this oversight, they took steps to fix it. And to be fair, the inspector on the case, William Maskiell, concedes that architects or contractors typically file for permits rather than the homeowners themselves. Still, he points out, “If you own the house, you’re responsible on everything that goes on with that house.”
In other words, the buck stops with the Clintons.
Granted, this blooper might seem small compared with the much larger problems on Hillary Clinton’s plate right now. Still, it can serve as an important lesson to all homeowners—many of whom might be tempted to sneakily sidestep those annoying permits before they start renovating. Honestly, are those little pieces of paperwork all that important?
It turns out they really are.
“I can’t believe a contractor working on a multimillion-dollar home wouldn’t pull permits,” says Mark Clements, a contractor at MyFixItUpLife.com. “It’s very much the contractor’s responsibility to gain those permits, and nearly unthinkably stupid not to.”
Here’s why: “On the surface, permits are inconvenient, but their value vastly outweighs what it takes to obtain them,” Clements explains. “They ensure everything from zoning variances to proper building practices are followed. And they make sure there is another set of expert eyes on the work being done, checking for everything from proper structure to code-approved electric to fire stops are safely installed.”
Once that’s done, a final inspection and certificate of occupancy, or “C of O,” is issued. The home may be reappraised—which could raise property taxes—”but it will also mean that when you list it for sale with three bathrooms, you can do so legally,” Clements adds.
A Stronger America, One Permit At A Time
So what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t bother with permits before you embark on a home improvement project? For one, if you’re caught, you could face fines.
“In some jurisdictions the penalties can be heavy, but it’s the stop-work order than can really hurt,” says David Reiss, a professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School and editor of REFinBlog.com. “Not only does it delay the completion of the work, but it may lead to additional costs from the contractor and subcontractors working on the project. And to top it off, it may interfere with the homeowners’ plans to leave their current home and move into their new one. The cascade effect among the affected parties can be painful.”
And even if you’ve already completed your renovation off the radar, you aren’t in the clear. If you decide to sell your home one day, unpermitted renovations can discourage buyers from biting—if they’re discovered.
“When buying a home, you always want to pay attention to any signs that there was unpermitted work done on the house,” says Reiss. “Is the certificate of occupancy for a one-family home, but there is a mother-in-law unit in the back? Are all of the houses on the block one story but your house is two stories? In such cases, you definitely want to dig a little deeper so you are not left holding the bag.”
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