Can A Building Permit Protect Me?


Buyer Beware

City building inspectors rarely if ever look at the work a retrofit done by your contractor.  They must do 10-15 inspections a day and take 1/2 hour for lunch and simply do not have time and except in San Leandro they do not carry the appropriate safety equipment.  In addition, unappealing crawl spaces the the one shown below are the rule rather than the exception. 

There is neither special licensing for retrofit contractors nor a retrofit building code to follow.  From the building department’s point of view if you want to put in shiny hardware that may or may not help the house resist earthquakes it is not their place to stop you.  It is your house and you can do whatever you want to.

Building departments do not even allow mentioning the words “Seismic Retrofit” on permit applications.  At the most one can say, “voluntary seismic upgrade”, or “put in shiny hardware” and some cities, such as San Francisco, won’t even allow the that.  They don’t want you to provide plans. From their point of view, why give them plans to look at when there is no code to evaluate the plans with?  It is a waste of their time. What they do not tell you, is that the retrofit and the retrofit  might be a waste of your money.  Further, it takes at least 45 minutes to fully evaluate a retrofit. Building inspectors simply do not have that much time to waste on a project they will pass no matter what it looks like.  Engineers do not have adequate training.

When You Sell Your Home

The only time the permit issue comes up is upon time of sale.  You must disclose all work that was done without a permit.  Many buyers hire a private home inspector to examine the house. These inspectors know that the permit means at me nothing but do want to let the buyer know if the work was properly done.

Therefore, it is important to have all the documentation you can get to show the home inspector in the form of photographs and a set of plans that shows exactly what was done and where. Your contractor should provide you with this when the job is complete.