The majority of the housing stock in Los Angeles was built in-between 1920 and 1950s. This means these properties are getting old and need updating and remodeling. Building Permits are required for major renovations.
The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety regulates construction in the city. It is their goal to make sure that all new construction projects are built to code and safe.
According to the Los Angeles Municipal Code a building permit is required:
For any work that costs $500 or more. Permits are required to build, remodel, repair, demolish any building or structure. Depending on the size of the job, several different permits might be required. Here are some Examples of work that requires a permit: New Roof, kitchen remodel, bathroom remodel, New pool, installing AC with ducting, upgrading electrical, new plumbing, exterior stucco, new windows, drywall replacement, installation of security bars, fire damage repairs, installing a fence above a certain height, decks, chimney repairs, and anchor bolting/bracing foundation (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 91.106)
If you follow the letter of the municipal code exactly, you are pretty much suppose to permit everything!
New construction and Additions that add square footage absolutely must have permits. The risks are too great if you don’t. Follow the permit process for new construction and when the work is finished, you will receive a certificate of occupancy from the building department. This certificate of occupancy shows that the building is legal. Lenders require a CofO to give the additional square footage or building value on their appraisal. No CofO = no value. Aside from adding no value, a building that does not have a certificate of occupancy can be a liability to the owner, because the city could demand that it be demolished if they believe it is unsafe. Sellers might have trouble later on down the road selling their property when they disclose that the addition or building was unpermitted to buyers. Don’t have a CofO for a building or addition? You may be able to get a Retroactive Permit.
I recommend for buyers to always get a permit report in escrow, even if the property was not remodeled recently, just to verify that the property has a certificate of occupancy.
A Permit history report can be ordered from http://www.thepermitreport.com/ for $60. They will do their best to pull permits, but sometimes permits can be stored at more than one location, and since the city of Los Angeles use an archaic microfiche system – not every single microfiche is going to be looked at.
Permits can sometimes be missed. If you can’t locate the permit, assume that it doesn’t exist.
You may also check the city of Los Angeles building permits online through their system: Los Angeles Property Activity Report. Keep in mind that this system only has recent permits- the oldest permit I have seen in there was 1992.
A permit Report is also helps you check for open permits. Sometimes an owner gets a permit but does not close it. These are known as open permits. Open Permits are not permits, and if you find any open permits as a buyer you take on the responsiblity for them when you purchase the property. You will want to investigate how to get these permits closed- either by demanding the seller handles it, or by taking on the responsibility yourself after you own it. There can be two situations which create an open permit:
Owner filed to get a permit but then never did the work. This is the easiest to solve, all you have to do is go to the building department and tell them tat you never did the work and you want to close the permit, they will send out an inspector to make sure nothing was done and close out the permit.
Owner filed to get the permit, did work, but final permit never issued. Getting this open permit closed is tricky. The city will charge you an extension fee to reactivate the permit, or if has been a very long time, they will make you start the permit process all over again. You will be charged a new permit fee and you will have to resubmit building plans. Every inspector for the city is different so how they handle this situation will vary from inspector to inspector, but in general they want destructive testing. They will go to the property for a rough inspection. Take for instance, non permitted windows, the inspector will dig out the stucco around the window to see inside if the window was installed properly. If they are satisfied with the installation, they will come back after you have sealed the window up for a final inspection and close the open permit.
The city handles many permits each day and people make mistakes. Sometimes the records have a mistake and the property received final approval, or maybe the contractor forgot to get the permit final-ed at the end of the job. Go in and talk with the building department and see what you can do to figure it out.
When a project has permits, a buyer knows that a city building inspector monitored each phase of the construction and gave it his final approval. Permits gives you assurance that the work done is reliable and not substandard. Permitted work meets building and safety codes at the time it was completed.
What if you find that some of the work was not permitted?
If you cannot locate permits for a construction job, then it is Non Permitted Work.