Buying houses with home additions that are not permitted can be a costly mistake.

The square footage noted in the MLS listing may exceed the square footage on jurisdictional (city/county) tax records. While exact matches are unlikely, discrepancies of hundreds of square feet may signify home additions that were not permitted.

Unpermitted Home Additions

Many alterations to houses such as adding a deck or garage as well as finishing a basement require permits and approvals from local building authorities. Unfortunately, homeowners and unscrupulous contractors do not always get the necessary permits and inspections. The result is unpermitted home additions.

There are three reasons why buying a house with an home addition that was not permitted could cause you problems in the future.


1. Inferior Work

Unpermitted space may have inferior work performed by unlicensed and/or unskilled workers including Do-It-Yourself Homeowners. There can be safety and quality issues because of poor workmanship.

Homeowners can make alterations to their own homes and complete the work themselves. However, if the work falls into certain categories, permits and inspections are still required to assure that the work meets building code at the time of the improvements.

Remember that building codes are minimum standards for the work performed. Meeting those standards is the least expected.

As a home inspector, I frequently find myself inspecting houses with home additions that were not permitted. The work is almost always inferior and sometimes dangerous.


2. Assume the Liability

When you assume ownership of a property, you are assuming the liability and responsibility for mistakes or short-cuts made by previous homeowners.

You may not be able to sell the property in the future without satisfying jurisdictional inspections. You may have been willing to accept a property with unpermitted space when you bought the house. That  does not mean that future buyers will be willing to accept unpermitted space and the ensuing hassle and cost that may be involved with properly permitting the home addition.

When jurisdictions become aware that a house has a home addition that was not permitted, they likely will require that the wall board and ceilings be torn out so that inspectors can see the rough framing, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work. This work must meet current building code, not code at the time these improvements were initially made.

For example, if the improvements were made in 1995, then the work must meet current building code. Since 1995, there have been enormous and expensive changes in building code. In addition, there may be penalties and fines for not properly permitting space.


3. Insurance Claim Denial

If a large fire or other homeowner insurance claim occurs, an insurance company can deny the claim because the work that caused the claim was not professional, properly permitted or inspected by jurisdictional inspectors. This raises the stakes with owning a home addition that was not permitted.


What to Do About Unpermitted Additions

Checking for unpermitted home additions involves contacting the city or county Building Inspections Department to find out if permits were issued for the alterations in the property. Ask to see copies of permits and certificates of occupancy for the extra space.

Before investing so much of your money and your life in a house with an unpermitted home addition, take the time to check into this issue. Ask your real estate professional for help in making sure that all the square footage in the house you are buying has been properly permitted. For more home buying tips, click here.


Nipper Home Inspection Services, Inc.Author: Rick Nipper is a NC Licensed Home Inspector, a NC Licensed General Contractor and a building science expert. He is the owner of Nipper Home Inspection Services, Inc. and Nipper Home Solutions in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area of North Carolina.