As many of you may have seen, there was a recent crackdown on unlicensed contractors, many of whom may find themselves behind bars for the holidays. It is a criminal offense to work as a contractor without a license, and for good reason. Unlicensed contractors can be unreliable, often times cut corners, and generally do not pull permits for the work they are performing. A great deal (if not most) of the construction defect work we see involves work performed by unlicensed contractors. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring an unlicensed contractor because they may be cheaper, or worse yet, that they are willing to perform work without pulling a permit.
Permits can be a homeowner’s best friend, an assurance that someone will review the work, once completed, to make sure it satisfies the county’s code requirements. If a permit is not pulled and properly closed out upon completion of the work, there is no oversight of the work that was performed. Unpermitted work can also cause long term repercussions when one goes to sell their residence.
Most prudent purchasers nowadays are requiring their closing agent to perform permit searches for the property they are about to purchase. Even licensed contractors get it wrong sometimes. Open or expired permits suggest that work may have been done, but that such work was not properly inspected upon completion. This may mean nothing, or it might evidence shoddy (or possibly illegal work). For this reason, it is important to have open/expired permits closed out before you close, which generally requires a final inspection.
Unlicensed contractors, however, generally do not even pull permits. They obviously don’t want to get caught. If you are nevertheless going to throw caution to the wind and hire a “turkey,” (which we obviously strongly discourage, but understand that even the best advice goes unheeded), at least insist that they pull permits for the work and then cross your fingers, because more likely than not you are going to have problems.
If you are purchasing a home that clearly had after the fact work done to it, insist on having the seller produce permits for the work. If they cannot, have the closing agent provide them to you. If they do not exist, the work was done illegally. Illegal work is subject to fines, penalties, and worse yet, forced removal. It is not something any homebuyer should take on. There is a process for securing after the fact permits for illegal work. However, that process can be costly. As such, that burden should be placed on the seller before a purchaser closes.
The moral of the story. Don’t hire a turkey. As a homeowner, engage qualified, licensed, and bonded contractors, and most importantly, ask for a copy of their qualifications. As a homebuyer, make sure all prior work was done by licensed contractors, that the work was done pursuant to a valid permit, and that the work was properly inspected upon completion and the permit closed out.
As always, should you have any questions, please contact your real estate attorney. Happy Thanksgiving!!
This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.
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