Should I get a permit for a basement bathroom?

mrmichaeljmooreOctober 12, 2009

We are planning on haveing a full bath (stall shower, toilet and sink) installed in our basement.

The basement is already finished, we would just be adding the bathroom.

NOTE: This is not a DIY project. Work will be done by licensed plumbers, electricians, etc.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping design business and in the off-season does contracting on the side. He onws rental properties, flip houses. He uses licensed plumbers and elecltricians for all his work. I've seen his work; it's top shelf stuff.

Now, to the dilemma......

My friend says I should do the bathroom without getting a permit.

He says the permit process is a huge PITA for my town (he would know because he lives in my town too). Plus, he said my taxes would go up.

I asked him, "what if I go to sell, what to I do?"

He said claim ignorance. Tell the inspector/realtor, etc. that the contractor said he got all the permits. He said most folks won't even ask about permits if the work looks done good and right. It is when the work looks like a hack job is when people start to ask questions.

He said we would take pictures of all the work as we went along to show any inspector if the issue came up.

He said if I had to pay a fine at the time of sale, it would be less than the increase in taxes I would've paid.

So, what does everyone think?

If I was doing this myself, I would definitely get a permit. But since all the work will be done by licensed guys (and presumably up to code) why not take the bit of risk and skip the permits?

thanks for the input.


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I would stay far away from this "friend". I'm going to guess that the friend is not a licensed contractor which is why he's telling you to not get permits. Legitimate contractors do not tell the homeowner to play stupid.

If you do not have a permit and the town finds out (neighbors are great for ratting you out), they can make you rip everything out and do it over. My advice is to do the smart thing and get the appropriate permits.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 4:51PM
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I wouldn't take the risk, even if the job is done by professionals. Real estate is not the only risk, if something does happen, you also have to worry about insurance.

So if you get caught your going to show them the pictures and tell them you knew enough to take pictures, but not to get a permit? I'm not sure how that will go over.

Most licensed professionals I know won't work without permits.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 4:53PM
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My neighbors got hit for umpermitted work.

I was putting a new entry on the front of my house, and I pulled a permit even though it was DIY and not required.

My neighbors, who can't even see my house, called the town and an official came over to see if the work I was doing (adding 6'x 12' vestibule, a bluestone porch around the vestibule, and an overhead 16' by 14' "balcony" that covers the bluestone and vestibule) was within the scope of the permit. It was.

While he was there, the neighbors came over. Even though my permit was displayed and the building officer told them I had a permit, they insisted that I had violated the law because they were never notified that I had pulled a permit.

It's the town's responsibility to notify neighbors. Plus, I told them that I hadn't been notified by the town when they (my neighbors) finished off their basement a few years previous.

They never puled a permit to do that work. I forget what the fine was, but they had to open up a couple of walls so the inspector could check out some plumbing and electrical connections, then pay double the original fee plus a fine.

The best part? My neighbor sits on the zoning board of appeals and he's notorious for hammering people that violate town ordinances.

If a contractor ever encouraged me to not get a permit, I'd venture he's doing it for his benefit and not mine. What does he have to benefit by no permit being pulled? No oversight. A contractor who wants no oversight isn't someone I want working on my house.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 7:21PM
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There's a reason your friend is a 'contractor on the side' and not a full-time guy, because many/most customers don't want someone who tells them to cut legal corners.

If a job is not permitted, ultimately it's the homeowner's responsibility and not the contractor's, so your butt is the one on the line if there is a problem now or in the future.

Figure worst-case scenario:

Job is underway, neighbor reports you, inspector comes by. Where I am it's an automatic $5000 fine, a Stop Work Order and a paperwork nightmare to get permitted retroactively for a job-in-progress and clear the SWO. And then you're on the Department of Building's radar, so expect a surprise inspection during work and a final inspection with a fine-tooth comb before you'll be able to close the job.

Another scenario: you do all the work unpermitted but have an insurance claim a year down the line. Insurance company asks about this new bathroom which wasn't on their initial survey of the house. Asks for paperwork about when you did the work and city approval for the work to validate the claim. Um....

Third scenario: you install the bathroom without permits, live with it happily, then a buyer flags it at resale. It's now your responsibility to have the work legalized after the fact, which would mean opening walls and re-tiling in the case of a bathroom. If the work fails code - inadequate ventilation, problems with lighting placement - you have to fix it. Delays. Plus you're then in the position of telling the potential new buyers about a property tax increase, which hasn't been in their calculations prior to this. Plus they're wondering, if the owner cut corners here, where else did they cut corners that I'm not seeing? That's going to undermine their confidence and could lose you a sale.

We're permitted up the wazoo for our ongoing renovation - general, electrical, plumbing, mechanical. It's cost several hundred dollars overall, but it's minor money and red tape now to save major money, legal hassles and time later.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 8:33AM
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Permits=protection because they bring inspections. Think of the fee you pay as the price for hiring an outsider to make sure all your contractors did things right. Even licensed ones make mistakes or overlook things. As a DIY-er, I appreciated having an inspector bless my work before covering it up.

And how much are your taxes going to go up by adding a $10,000 bathroom? $100 a year? Small price to pay for peace of mind.

Plus I'm always for being honest.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 10:29PM
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We got a permit for our guest bathroom. It was originally just a 1/2 bath, and we added a shower when we reno'd.

We've heard that not only neighbors can/will "rat you out," but the trash collectors will often report the fact that you're doing work--they see the dumpster, or tub or toilet when they're collecting trash, and....

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 9:36AM
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Boy mongoct, if I were you, I think I would find a new place to live!

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 9:48AM
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Im going to have to vote with the rest. Youre getting good info and advice from everyone. You should definitely permit the work. I just read on another forum a trials of a family wanting to buy a new home that they are in love with only to find out that the house was built as a 2 bedroom 1 bath, thus the septic system was built to that standard and the house is now 5 bedrooms 2 1/2 baths and the whole deal is falling apart. The seller may well not only lose the sale but may have to tear down the entire unpermited additions. Non disclosure in a real estate situation can be a very costly situation so think in terms of down the road if you ever need to sell regardless as to whether you will be "ratted out". Which also calls to you know if your septic or sewer line is adequate to handle another bath? If not that bathroom, as the lowest point in your house, will be where any backup will flow out.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 1:11PM
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I have just been in the back ground reading but I have to tell you that I vote with the rest...Get that permit. The inspector is the only one that does not have a vested interest in your home and will be the 1st to point out code violations (which were put into place because of problems to begin with).

Most do not think plumbing is dangerous but sewer gases can kill not to mention that you can contanimate the water supply.

The 1st red flag against a contractor is by passing the permits...buyer beware.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 3:43PM
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Another little story.

A guy in my village decided to make an addition to his home, including a new bathroom. He did not get a permit.

Eventually someone noticed he did not have a permit and reported him to the code enforcement officer... who had him schedule an electrical inspection asap. The morning before the electrical inspection there was a fire that burned down not only his addition but his entire house. Ironic, huh?

Permits are not just there to get your municipality more money, they are there to pay a professional to help protect you and your neighbors from dangerous code violations that could cost you your property or your lives. His neighbors were damn glad the fire department was able to put out the blaze before their homes caught fire.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 12:08AM
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well, we've decided to go with our gut (and the advice here on this board) and get the permits.

My friend (the GC) has no problems with doing that. And he understands my reasons for doing so.
Being a small business owner, he's just on a bit of an anti-government rant lately, and sees the permit process as a government revenue grab.....he's a good guy, definitely not an idiot.
He and all of the subs (plumber, electrician) are licensed and have no problem going the permit route.

Funny note though........
My wife and I were watching HTV the other night. Watching the show "Holmes on Homes."
Holmes is a contractor that goes around helping people out that get screwed over by shady contractors.
He was helping a couple who basically had their whole house torn apart to be remodeled. Well, the contractor did some really really crappy work......all sorts of construction, plumbing and electrical code violations......and ALL of it (according to the show) had been approved by inspectors.
"Holmes on Homes" ended up bascially ripping everything out and started from scratch....

With this permit debate issue in mind, my wife and I had a bit of a laugh when we saw that.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2009 at 11:29AM
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