Municipal Building Inspector: Friend or Foe?

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It’s 10am, do you know where your building inspector is? You certainly know where he isn’t, he isn’t approving the most recent work so that you can move on with your project. Your inspection was scheduled for first thing in the morning and the inspector finally shows up near the end of the day.  On the one hand you want to yell, scream and complain, on the other hand you know that you need him to sign off on the work so that you can proceed.  Outwardly you are respectful and cordial, inside you are seething and thinking, “next time I’m doing this without permits!”

Do I Really Need Permits?

It’s very tempting to do renovations without pulling permits.  You can save time, money and a big hassle, but at what cost?  The primary reason that municipalities require permits is so that they can be sure that work is performed to acceptable standards and that it meets all building codes.  The codes are created to set minimum standards for safety and appearance.  These standards give home buyers a reasonable level of assurance that a home is safe for them to live in. 

A lot of cosmetic work can be done without permits.  Installing new carpets, painting and simple changes do not normally require any kind of approval.  Major renovations involving plumbing, electric, foundations, extensions etc. almost always will.  A good starting point is the local building department.  They can give you an idea of what the local requirements are.  When in doubt, give them a call.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin Permits!

When working with contractors you need to be careful.  If they tell you that they don’t need permits to do the project you should check to be sure.  It could be that they are unlicensed or they may be looking to cut corners.  Be especially wary if they say that you can save money by not pulling permits, you may end up paying a lot more in the end.

The building inspector will check a contractor’s work to be sure that it is up to par.  If the work is shoddy it will fail inspection.  This is a case where an inspector can save you a lot of trouble.  If the work fails inspection the contractor will have to make it right and they should be the ones bearing the cost for any corrections that need to be made.

Big City vs. Small Town

When working with a building department in a large city you a probably dealing with a bureaucracy and may not see the same inspector twice.  In a small town the local inspector may be the entire building department.  You need to adapt to whatever the situation is.  In a large city you want to develop a good reputation so that inspectors know that you are easy to deal with.  In a small town you need to make the inspector your friend.  Making an enemy of a small town inspector can be the kiss of death for your business as can a bad reputation in a big city.

Permits, inspectors and inspections can be a big hassle.  However, they are a part of the business and learning to deal with them can make your life a lot easier.

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves. – Abraham Lincoln



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  1. I have had my fair share of having to deal with inspectors who show up when they can and you have a construction crew sitting waiting on him. Then they show up and act like they have never done any type of construction a day in their life.

    It is so frustrating because you do need them to pass stuff off if you want to play by the rules.

  2. It can be tempting to do work “quietly” without pulling permits, however the potential cost of getting caught usually outweighs the benefits. Also, it usually must be disclosed if any work is done without permits when you go to sell.

  3. It seduces so many buyers but if you compare it with the trouble they have to go through if they get caught (and they usually do), then I guess it’s not bad at all. I know the inspectors can be real pain sometimes and yes, they can easily make a call just to keep us in the loop that they’ll be late or something but still, it’s well worth the whole hassle!

  4. What I do not get is when you are building in a small town, and the building inspector has nothing else to do and never shows up. Then when they do all they do is write their name and go. How simple would that have been two days ago, when you should have been here? Makes no sense.
    Then if you want to dig, they call out another official to mark the dig zones. In such a small town where I live, it would be so much easier if the inspector did most of the code/zone authorizing him/herself.

  5. florida property on

    “Learning to deal with them” is fine – but when they don’t even know the standards and codes they’re supposed to enforce, what use are they? One local inspector assigned to check out my house construction project was unable to answer a question about irrigation issues and couldn’t be bothered to find out, even though the city expected him to finally sign it off. His solution was to demand that I phoned his boss! But don’t worry – these people are professionals!

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