Getting City Permits and Doing the Work Yourself

85 Replies

I have two duplexes that need the windows replaced. Me and my Dad are planning on doing the work ourselves since we know how to do it and we can save a substantial amount of money. The problem is getting a permit from the city. They only allow you to do the work yourself if you plan on living in the property. They require investors to have the work performed by contractors.

How would I go about handling this if I want to do the work myself? The contractors I've talked to want a ridiculous amount of money to replace windows. Can I pay a contractor to pull a permit and sign off on the job? Has anyone figured out a way to make this work?

This law is complete illogical BS. The city permitting department doesn't even know the reason for it, other than "that's just the way it is".

Hi Matthew,

1. I would get a contractors license, I don't know your local rules tho.

2. Tell them your keeping the properties and plan to move in and change your mind at the end

3 Like you said cover all bases and pay a contractor to pull a permit and you do the work but as a contractor myself I wouldn't do that for liability reasons  

Originally posted by @Matthew B. :

I have two duplexes that need the windows replaced. Me and my Dad are planning on doing the work ourselves since we know how to do it and we can save a substantial amount of money. The problem is getting a permit from the city. They only allow you to do the work yourself if you plan on living in the property. They require investors to have the work performed by contractors.

How would I go about handling this if I want to do the work myself? The contractors I've talked to want a ridiculous amount of money to replace windows. Can I pay a contractor to pull a permit and sign off on the job? Has anyone figured out a way to make this work?

This law is complete illogical BS. The city permitting department doesn't even know the reason for it, other than "that's just the way it is".

There is no way to do what you want to do legally, but I'm guessing you already know this.

And there actually is a very good reason why these statutes exist even if the building dept you talked to doesn't know why. It's to protect others who will end up in contact with the work from you. (tenants or another owner if you'd sell it) 

There is a difference in the USA between your home domicile that you will live in and a property bought for financial gain at the expense of others.  The pioneer spirit that is the founding of the USA is the basis for being able to do things you're not qualified to do to your own home, but it stops there when it comes to doing it as a business that others may suffer from and/or be victimized as a result.  There is more leeway in our laws and beliefs in not protecting you from yourself in your own home, but less when it comes to protecting others from you in an investment property.

 There are contractors who will pull permits for you illegally just as there are drug dealers who will sell you drugs or people you could by stolen guns from, all of which are illegal to do.

As said, to do it legally you could actually in some places become a contractor. Some jurisdictions require proven experience and passing a test, some don't, most will require a copy of a general liability insurance policy naming the building dept as additionally insured, some may not. Check with the building dept and see what it takes to get licensed, they might only require you pay them $25.00 for a business license and you're good to go, but the odds are against it.

@Mike F.  

A person can do work to their own residence and have the building inspector come out to make sure it was done correctly. 

The same person is forced to hire a contractor to do the same work on the rental property they own next door. The building inspector still comes out to make sure the work was done correctly.

Think about it.

@Matt Adamson  

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

I hired a non licensed contractor to fix something that needed inspected by the city. When the city found out there was no permit pulled for the work by the contractor I had to go back and hire another contractor to inspect his work and pull a permit so that the city would pass it. The amount of money I had to pay for the licensed contractor to just inspect the work of the non licensed contractor made the whole thing not worth it. 

This is a different scenario however, and you should be able to find a contractor that will come out and charge you for an hour of work to inspect your work and put his name on it so the city passes it. Easy money for the contractor to inspect and sign off on it if the job is done right.

Originally posted by @Matthew B. :

@Matt Adamson 

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

 In Seattle anyone can become a general contractor you just have to get insurance and a bond it's kinda scary.. 

Originally posted by @Matthew B. :

@Matt Adamson  

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

 Sounds good. I'd like to see a lot more municipalities adopt a similar common sense approach like that.

I think @Mike F. gave a great response. I'll add to it -

You mess with an outlet. The house burns down and the tenant dies. The insurance company won't pay because you weren't a licensed, professional electrician. You are personally ruined.

You hire a licensed, insured, bonded electrician to mess with an outlet. This electrician pulls the right permits. The house burns down and the tenant dies. Insurance will have no choice but to pay because they can't cast reasonable doubt on the work that was done. Your business will go right on truckin'

@Aaron McGinnis  

I understand what you're saying about the insurance. They'll try anything they can to get out of paying a claim. They'll most likely sue the electrician and his insurance company.

My point is that the inspector comes out and inspects either way. His job is to make sure the work was done up to code. The only difference is who does the work. The end result is the same.

If we are to trust inspectors to know how things are supposed to be done and we are to believe that the purpose of the inspectors is to protect the public, then it shouldn't matter who performs the work. It's either up to code or not up to code. It's the inspector's job to know the difference.

Either force homeowners to hire contractors to pull permits or allow investors to pull permits without a contractor. The current system is contradictory and illogical.

If the purpose of the law is to create a bigger target to go after in the case of a lawsuit (i.e. the insurance policy of the contractor), then what about the houses with homeowner jobs that are passed by inspectors and then sold on the market? Why not require investors to carry insurance policies similar to those of the contractor?

In the case of either the homeowner job or the contractor job, the inspector has the final say on whether the work performed is safe, and the inspector is the one who should be held responsible if the work is later found to be faulty. But then again good luck getting the government to take responsibility for anything.

I agree, it doesn't make sense. What's the difference between pulling permits and doing the work myself in my own home (which I could sell in a few years down the road) and doing the work in an investment property which I am selling or renting right away. They both eventually get lived in by someone else. Do they think we'll do garbage work because we're not living in it right away? You need to pass an inspection either way.

Originally posted by @Greg Ewanchuk:

I agree, it doesn't make sense. What's the difference between pulling permits and doing the work myself in my own home (which I could sell in a few years down the road) and doing the work in an investment property which I am selling or renting right away. They both eventually get lived in by someone else. Do they think we'll do garbage work because we're not living in it right away? You need to pass an inspection either way.

Maybe you don't do garbage work, what about for the people who does lazy work and install a small beam and doesn't even know if he needs to pull a permit on it? or removes a beam and the roof collapses on his tenant? the end result is not the same, it is a tree of end results, one of the branches being a tenant dead and the other branches are ok. Building codes are not specific, they are generally written, they are built with the impression of multi story and multi million projects. They aren't built for rehab or simple fixes, they are also built for consumer and safety driven. Permit pulling for a single story 2'x2' window is the same as the one on the 12th story with a 8' x 8' window (yes, 8'x8' is considered as window in some buildings) which requires safety equipment and good anchorage. Ponder on this, you need a lead test if you are to touch any paint near a window if the house is built pre-1978, and if it tests positive, you need to hire somebody who has EPA certificate, they have to get a full coveralls, painters hat, shoe covers, and respirators, then you need an abatement company to throw away those garbage bags even if its only a few chips of paint. Ridiculous right? Its the law. If this was a home owner case, you will still have the same requirements. They are extra strict when you cater to the public, and that is what we pay them for, to protect us when we are on the consumer side.

http://www2.epa.gov/lead

@Manolo D.  

1) You're talking about lazy people not pulling permits. I have no problem with pulling the permit, if I were actually allowed to do it!

2) I have no problem with building codes. There absolutely should be building codes and an inspector who checks to make sure the job done is up to code and safe. Mandating that investors hire contractors and allowing homeowners to do the work themselves is BS.

3) I understand the requirements for lead based paint. The difference is that the requirements are the same for contractors and homeowners. THAT makes more sense than allowing homeowners to perform work themselves and requiring investors to hire contractors.

Originally posted by @Mike F. :
Originally posted by @Matthew Buttner:

@Matt Adamson  

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

 Sounds good. I'd like to see a lot more municipalities adopt a similar common sense approach like that.

 Amen!  Every state should require work to be done by a licensed contractor and only a licensed contractor should be able to pull the permits.  

Originally posted by @Matthew B. :

@Matt Adamson  

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

Maybe a biggerpocket GC in FL can back me up here, but I understand that you also have to pass a certification test that covers the codes for all disciplines, from foundation to roof, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.  A buddy of mine did it and he said it was the most challenging thing he'd ever done.

@Dana Whicker  

You are correct. There is a course and test in addition to the work requirements.

Originally posted by @Matthew Buttner:

3) I understand the requirements for lead based paint. The difference is that the requirements are the same for contractors and homeowners. THAT makes more sense than allowing homeowners to perform work themselves and requiring investors to hire contractors.

Well... you're really not going to like hearing this one either...

In reality,  the EPA says a homeowner can do all the demo they want in their own house with lead paint in it, do it up, scrape it, sand it, blast all that lead in the air all they want with their 8 month old kid in the next room. BUT... they can't do it in their rental property or their flip, they have to hire a EPA certified RRP abled contractor.

What if you installed windows for a living that's your job and what you do each day. You work for a company so you are not state licensed. You would know the window codes and how to properly install them. But you couldn't do it to a rental property that you own. I agree that there are a lot of bad repairs done by homeowners. All of witch I am sure there was no permit pulled or they would not have passed. I have also seen horrible repairs done by contractors. I don't understand why it matters who pulls the permit or who does the work as long as it's done correct, it's done correct. Also why do I need a permit to do simple things like change out a faucet it's not rocket science to hook up 2 lines. Some of the prices charged for simple plumbing and electrical are very large. I truly believe if the prices were not so high more people would hire things out. I was quoted this week 600 to set a tub and install a new shower valve. That's ridiculous. I would much rather hire everything but the costs of some things just don't make it feasible.

Also it's not uncommon for a elec job in a rehab to be 5-10,000. Out of that 2-5000 is materials. The elec is usually a 2-3 days for roughing and final. Why is there such a large labor charge.

Originally posted by @Mike F. :
Originally posted by @Matthew Buttner:

3) I understand the requirements for lead based paint. The difference is that the requirements are the same for contractors and homeowners. THAT makes more sense than allowing homeowners to perform work themselves and requiring investors to hire contractors.

Well... you're really not going to like hearing this one either...

In reality,  the EPA says a homeowner can do all the demo they want in their own house with lead paint in it, do it up, scrape it, sand it, blast all that lead in the air all they want with their 8 month old kid in the next room. BUT... they can't do it in their rental property or their flip, they have to hire a EPA certified RRP abled contractor.

That's not quite true Mike. 

If there hasn't been a lead inspection, then the homeowner is free to renovate their property, but they can't delead their property. It's illegal for anyone to try to specifically delead the property before an inspection, however if you're renovating and replacing all the windows and doors that happen to have lead paint on them, that's legal. If there's signs of "Unauthorized Deleading" then the property will never get a Lead Cert. People generally think that by removing or covering all the lead below 5' it's good. I've seen door frames covered or cut out and replaced with pine from 5' down and baseboards covered with lauan, sure signs of UD. 

If there's been a Initial Lead Inspection, then the homeowner can take a class and get certified to delead their own property. If he/she doesn't take the class, they have to hire a licensed deleader. 

Your state's board of health website should have a link to your state's laws. I suggest you find them and learn them for your area. 

Derreck

Originally posted by @Shawn Pehrson:

Also it's not uncommon for a elec job in a rehab to be 5-10,000. Out of that 2-5000 is materials. The elec is usually a 2-3 days for roughing and final. Why is there such a large labor charge.

 Shawn, running a legal business is expensive. Licensed tradesmen need to pay for their licenses. We also have to take "continuing education" classes yearly, every other year, every five years, whatever it might be for that trade. Those classes cost money. 

We also need to carry insurance. Very expensive insurance if your particular trade of choice can kill someone. Such as if an electrician wires something wrong and the house burns down in the middle of the night. Or if the plumber with the gas-fitters license hooks up a gas stove, then the tenant drops a jar of seasoning back there and pulls the stove out to retrieve it and causes a leak. Who's getting blamed for the eventual explosion? That's right, Joe the Plumber is. 

Permitting also costs money, and takes time at the town hall, that's off site work that the tradesmen is billing for. Getting the materials, again, off site work that you're getting billed for.

We also need to pay for the truck that carries those tools and supplies to your house, and for the insurance on that truck. Again, very expensive insurance because the litigious society we live in LOVES to sue businesses. 

Business taxes, social security taxes, workman's comp, income tax, inventory tax, blah, blah, blah. Did you know that if you look at your paycheck and your social security tax was $50, your employer actually has to match that $50? For every employee, plus pay his own, and match his own!!

On top of all that, we need to get a pay check. We have kids to feed and bills to pay too.

Think on that next time you're considering hiring a Craigslist Hack for $12 an hour. Who's going to pay for your tenants belongings that got destroyed in the flood from the leaking pipes? Who's going to pay for the new hardwood that got ruined? Not the CL guy, he's in the wind. You'll own that mess.

Originally posted by @Derreck Wells:

That's not quite true Mike. 

If there hasn't been a lead inspection, then the homeowner is free to renovate their property, but they can't delead their property. It's illegal for anyone to try to specifically delead the property before an inspection,

Hi Derreck 

Let me be clearer - I'm just referring to renovations. The EPA lets a homeowner do the demo in a home older than 1978 with or without testing it for lead, and even if it's tested and found to have lead paint the EPA still lets the homeowner do the demo in their own home, an investor cannot do this in an investment property.

As you probably know the EPA even lets the homeowner do the demo in a house with lead paint and then they can hire a non-certified contractor to do the reno, the EPA won't let the homeowner/investor do this in a investment property.

People generally think that by removing or covering all the lead below 5' it's good. I've seen door frames covered or cut out and replaced with pine from 5' down and baseboards covered with lauan, sure signs of UD. 

That would be rather interesting to see, where are they getting the idea of some sort of 5 foot rule?

Originally posted by @Derreck Wells:
Originally posted by @Shawn Pehrson:

Also it's not uncommon for a elec job in a rehab to be 5-10,000. Out of that 2-5000 is materials. The elec is usually a 2-3 days for roughing and final. Why is there such a large labor charge.

 Shawn, running a legal business is expensive. Licensed tradesmen need to pay for their licenses. We also have to take "continuing education" classes yearly, every other year, every five years, whatever it might be for that trade. Those classes cost money. 

We also need to carry insurance. Very expensive insurance if your particular trade of choice can kill someone. Such as if an electrician wires something wrong and the house burns down in the middle of the night. Or if the plumber with the gas-fitters license hooks up a gas stove, then the tenant drops a jar of seasoning back there and pulls the stove out to retrieve it and causes a leak. Who's getting blamed for the eventual explosion? That's right, Joe the Plumber is. 

Permitting also costs money, and takes time at the town hall, that's off site work that the tradesmen is billing for. Getting the materials, again, off site work that you're getting billed for.

We also need to pay for the truck that carries those tools and supplies to your house, and for the insurance on that truck. Again, very expensive insurance because the litigious society we live in LOVES to sue businesses. 

Business taxes, social security taxes, workman's comp, income tax, inventory tax, blah, blah, blah. Did you know that if you look at your paycheck and your social security tax was $50, your employer actually has to match that $50? For every employee, plus pay his own, and match his own!!

On top of all that, we need to get a pay check. We have kids to feed and bills to pay too.

Think on that next time you're considering hiring a Craigslist Hack for $12 an hour. Who's going to pay for your tenants belongings that got destroyed in the flood from the leaking pipes? Who's going to pay for the new hardwood that got ruined? Not the CL guy, he's in the wind. You'll own that mess.

 I own an insurance agency an know the costs of employees and the cost of insurance for different trades. If a auto body shop can operate on 45-55 an hour why can't a plumber or electricion? If they don't fix the car right and something goes wrong it's the same situation.

 I'm not saying give it away. I just think that because investors and the public in general can't pull a permit that the labor rates have become inflated. The costs you mention are the same with most every other business out there. I have liability insurance, taxes, Errors and omissions, contuing education, licenses, etc. 

Originally posted by @Dana Whicker :
Originally posted by @Matthew Buttner:

@Matt Adamson  

I'd love to get my contractor's license, but the law requires you to be employed by a contractor for 4 years before you're eligible to get your own license.

Maybe a biggerpocket GC in FL can back me up here, but I understand that you also have to pass a certification test that covers the codes for all disciplines, from foundation to roof, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.  A buddy of mine did it and he said it was the most challenging thing he'd ever done.

 GC needs to know pretty much about the whole building. That is why generic GCs can hire and supervise subcontractors, some GCs self perform and only work themselves and probably a guy or two more to help them. When you go outside the real estate industry, most GCs are 100% subcontracted, it is because they could not maintain 20 skilled people PER trade, and the cost of learning curve of a new hire is very expensive.

Originally posted by @Shawn Pehrson:

 I own an insurance agency an know the costs of employees and the cost of insurance for different trades. If a auto body shop can operate on 45-55 an hour why can't a plumber or electricion? If they don't fix the car right and something goes wrong it's the same situation.

 I'm not saying give it away. I just think that because investors and the public in general can't pull a permit that the labor rates have become inflated. The costs you mention are the same with most every other business out there. I have liability insurance, taxes, Errors and omissions, contuing education, licenses, etc. 

 How much do you think my insurance costs me? I have GL 1M per occurence 100k on rental premises 1M personal and adv injury 2M aggregate, WC 500k/year estimated gross income / 1M per accident, Umbrella 1M / 2M, Auto 1M / 2M, 20k material theft protection at 3 locations,  I'm sure you know we pay for 35% for carpentry and 50% for roofers right? Not to mention our deposits and premiums.

Body shop can hire people long term, of course they can charge get workers at 13/hour plus taxes plus wc, that gets their rate at around 20/hr max, so yeah, they could afford 45/hour. how about contractors who can not get good electricians and plumbers less than 35/hour, adding work comp and employer share alone that puts us at 45/hour maybe more, and oh, we forgot, we only hire them for 3 days, they have to find work for the rest of the week, and they spent 2 hours driving to your location, and probably half day going to others. no wonder they charge too much. Hire a plumber for a year, im sure their rate will go down to 20/hr.

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