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Contractors and Building Permits

SoulStalkerSoulStalker Registered User regular
edited December 2011 in Help / Advice Forum
Hey everyone, I'm in a bit of a situation with my contractor and I'm looking for some advice. Sorry for the long-winded explanation, I'm just trying to make sure that I cover everything.

I recently enlisted a contractor (who is a former coworker) to build a carport on my house. Before starting, I specifically asked if he takes care of getting the building permits, and he said yes. He came out to look at the spot, and then proceeded to draw up an estimate which I accepted. I live in a bungalow; facing the front of the house, the driveway (approx 12ft wide) is on the right. To the right of the driveway is about 4ft of grass, separating my driveway from my neighbors driveway. To the right of my neighbor's driveway is his house. The property line runs right through the center of the grass separating our driveways. The plan was to place the right-hand wall of the carport in the grass between our properties, which would leave approximately 6"-1ft of space between the property line and the new carport wall.

My contractor's guys arrived 2 days ago to start. I chatted with them for a bit about the project before I left for work. About 2 hours later, I get a call from the contractor, who tells me that he's at the city planning office, and they're telling him that it will be nearly 2 weeks before they can send someone out to inspect. When I ask him what I should do, he recommends that the project continue anyway, because they need to pour concrete (for sono tubes) and in 2 weeks time it will be far too cold for it to set. I tell him that I accept his recommendation and he should continue.

My girlfriend knows someone at the city planners office, so she emails her friend to see if there's any way they can expedite the permit process for me. During her discussion with her friend, my girlfriend learns that there must be a 4' setback from the property line for any structure that's being built. When I learn this, I call the contractor back and inform him. When I ask for his recommendation now, he tells me that they've already poured the sono tubes, and once again suggests that I continue on without the permit, because "this will only a problem when someone asks to see the permit". This sets off red flags for me, but I reluctantly agree. After all, he's the expert... right?

At this point I call my parents and my girlfriend's dad (who is a lawyer), and both recommend that I tell the contractor to cease immediately until I get the required permit. They also tell me that I need to apply for a variance from the building code in order to get the permit. This means that I need to ask the city if it's OK for me to build my carport 1ft from the property line instead of 4ft.

I call my contractor back, but I get his voicemail so I left a message telling him that I want him to stop construction ASAP. I also emailed him to the same effect. This is around 4:30pm, 2 days ago. Yesterday morning I received an email response from him, wherein he tells me that he has no problems stopping until I get the variance, but he wants to be paid for the work he's already done. Once again I talk to my parents and my girlfriend's father, who both recommend that I release no payment until the job is properly completed. I sent this response back via email yesterday, but he responded again with "you need to pay me for what I've already done".

I'm worried that if I pay him, but I apply for the variance and it's denied, I'm out that money, and then I have to pay him (or someone else) to come back and remove the sono tubes he's already installed. Given that this entire situation could have been avoided if he had simply applied for the permit in the first place, am I correct in assuming that he should be responsible for removing the sono tubes in this scenario? Should I pay him for the work he's already done, or tell him that I won't pay anything until the work is complete? Can he sue me? Is it legally his responsibility to ensure that there's a valid building permit before he does any work?

tl;dr: contractor started working without a building permit, and the work he did might not be to building code. Am I responsible for paying him, or does he have to eat the cost?

Misanthropist extraordinaire.
SoulStalker on


  • EncEnc A Fool with Compassion Pronouns: He, Him, HisRegistered User regular
    I would formally employ the services of your girlfriend's father, or one of his lawyer associates, and rely on them and only them for advice on this matter. There are all sorts of laws and restrictions you could be running afoul of, at this point you really need a professional.

  • DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    Lots of contractors have 2 quotes, one with permits, one without. Lots of contractors assume you don't really want to to do it permitted, because it adds cost (both time and money). I'm not saying what he did was right, but it's not uncommon (at least in my experience), and if you want it permitted it's a good idea to actually see them before ground is broken.

    Contractors can put liens on your house for non-payment. I've no idea at all if he could do so in this case (doing non-permitted work) and maybe your GF's friend can find out about that. If you find out he can't put a lien on your house from this, perhaps you could use his unpaid work as leverage to get on the ball w/r/to permitting and filing variances and whatnot.

  • Liquid HellzLiquid Hellz Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    Depending on where you live, if you or he didn't do all of these things your doing it wrong. Plus, in almost any situation, a permitting officer from the city/county must inspect the formwork being done BEFORE any concrete is poured.

    Liquid Hellz on
    What I do for a living:
    Home Inspection and Wind Mitigation
  • MetroidZoidMetroidZoid Registered User regular
    When he says he wants to be paid for the work he's done, has he said anything along the lines of what that entails? I'm not saying he didn't NOT do anything shady with his workmanship, I'm curious to what he's trying to get.

    3DS FC: 4699-5714-8940 Playing Pokemon, add me! Ho, SATAN!
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