What happens if I don't get a permit / inspection for my new bathroom?
November 20, 2008 10:27 AM   Subscribe

As part of a home remodeling project, I'm having a second bathroom installed. Officially, I'm supposed to get a permit and inspection for the work. What are the consequences if I skip this? This is in Seattle.

Background, if you want context: immediately after the plumber puts in the ground work, I'm having a waterproofing company install a below-floor drainage pipe that empties to the sewer. The waterproofing people advised me that this step does not in itself require a permit / inspection, but if it is inspected, it will not pass, because private homes aren't allowed to empty rainwater into the sewer system. The volume of water is so low, he says, that it's negligible, but the law is still on the books. So he said we should get the bathroom ground work inspected first, and then have his company come in. That was the plan, but now, because of scheduling delays, I will probably not have the chance to have an inspector in after the plumbers are done, but before the waterproofers come in.

So I'm tempted to just skip the whole permit / inspection thing. But I'm wondering if that'll bite me in the ass later. Both of the companies seem reputable (the waterproofer did the same work for my neighbor, and she's satisfied with it), so I'm not worried about the inspection as a form of protection. Just wondering if this will have consequences if I try to sell the house, or something.
posted by molybdenum to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I speak from experience in California, which might be a bit different, but I think on the general level it won't be.

The issue is that unpermitted work will have to be brought up to code if anyone notices (in other words, you can't ever do work with that part of the house that you want permitted), and though it is a minor thing, it is probably something to tell anyone looking at buying the house.

The folks I work with are understanding, and they've heard it all. So if you go to the plan checkers or whoever would review the plans prior to inspection, they might have ideas to get this done legally.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2008

When you sell the house, you will need a CO. That is the only time this will complicate things unless you have an insurance claim for that part of the house and the insurance company doesn't want to pay and finds out you had work done without getting a CO afterwards.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2008

Where I live (a small town in Maine), stuff like that CAN come back to bite you in the ass. Code Enforcement Officers can make you tear out non-permitted installations. Is there any permit already on the books for your project ? If so, that could be a deal breaker. If not, it might slide by, but do you really want to risk it ? YMMV, but I would try to cross my legs for a week or two. :)
posted by lobstah at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2008

Around here (SF Bay Area) it would bite you on the ass when it came time to sell, when you wanted to remodel something officially, or if the neighbors narc on you because they're annoyed the construction truck is parked in "their" spot.

If the plans for the house when you bought it don't match the plans when you sell it, be prepared for some static, in the form of fines, and permits you'll have to obtain after the fact (aka fines plus hassle). This must be a major money-maker here in Berkeley, because they're always looking for it.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2008

We got caught not having a permit. Our contractor never got one (we thought he had). In some cities you can see online if permits were filed. A company we got a bid from, but decided not to use, turned us in. They checked online after we told them he hired someone else. I will never tell people I get competitive bids from ever again if I move forward with the work.

It was a nightmare to get it resolved and took over two months. Almost everything had been done to code, except for two minor things, and it was amazing the amount of pain it caused. It also cost us more money to resolve.
posted by pokeedog at 10:55 AM on November 20, 2008

In Toronto, new weeping tile drains have to go into a sump pump. It works pretty well for our house. If I were you, I would make sure that it connects to the main drain upstream of any kind of back-flow prevention valve. It might be nasty if there was a sewer back-up and it all went into the weeping tile and could never be cleaned out.

Not getting permits really puts all the eggs into the contractor's basket. You'll have no way of suing him if the job is not up to snuff and no way to be sure that the design of the plumbing makes sense, especially things like proper venting and the angle of waste pipes. Lots of times these things can be problematic due to the existing house structure and it's too expedient, for the person the company may be sub-contracting the work to, to just cut into joists and fudge angles. The symptoms won't manifest until much later.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:56 AM on November 20, 2008

Two experiences, both in California:

The previous owner of my house had done a lot of remodeling sans permit (bathrooms and added a sun room). He had to tear out the sunroom and ultimately had to list the house as "As Is". It dropped the sales prices of the house by a third compared to the neighboring homes.

One of the neighbors up the street went on a big remodel spree (bathrooms, kitchen, garage conversion), he got busted by local Code Enforcement and they red-tagged his house (meaning no one could live thereā€”the family had to move out for several weeks) until he redid the work under permit. He got busted because he had a lot of building material in his driveway which a code enforcement officer noticed while driving by to visit another house on the block for a permit check.
posted by jamaro at 10:57 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

"I don't know how that got here" is kind of hard to get away with in case you ever have to explain a whole new bathroom, like to your insurer when filing a claim because your unpermitted work caused a problem.

You don't have some qualms with working with a company that's telling you that skipping inspection is the way to go? Is there a reason you're not considering a french drain or other solution for the "negligible" amount of water?
posted by sageleaf at 11:10 AM on November 20, 2008

Again in California, at the time of sale you must disclose anything done without a permit. The buyer may find this acceptable and make their offer accordingly, however in some cases the lender will not count the unpermitted bathroom as a bath, or part of their square footage calculations in their appraisal and that could significantly affect how much they can loan someone to buy your house, and ultimately result in killing the sale.

At this point you may have to discount your price to the buyer to compensate them for fixing any issues to make the appraisal work, or get the work permitted before a lender can make a loan. YMMV.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 11:32 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The company that installed my father-in-law's windows failed to get a permit. The village put a stop-work order on the house. The company disappeared. This took ages to resolve.
posted by desjardins at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2008

I know that it isn't what you are asking, but what your waterproofing company is suggesting you do is unethical.

You shouldn't do it because the bylaw against connecting your weeping tile sytem to the sanitary sewer is there for a reason. It costs money to treat wastewater, and dumping clean groundwater into the system like your contractor is proposing creates strain on the system, which is paid for by rising water/sewer bills. Your groundwater drain system should be connected to the appropriate storm drain system instead.

Also, this thread is now the first google result for "seattle weeping tile sewer", and your profile appears to have your real name, so there's that (not that I'd imagine building inspectors are trolling askme to bust code violators, but it's out there regardless)
posted by davey_darling at 1:15 PM on November 20, 2008

Don't do what you're proposing. Groundwater doesn't belong in the sanitary sewer. It overtaxes the system and causes backups, higher treatment costs and is generally a huge pain in the ass for everyone connected to the sewer. Run the drain into a sump pump, run the sump pump out to the surface.

Your city has a CSO program designed to identify and eliminate illegal connections to the sanitary sewer system. It's pretty easy to find them, and if it is found, you'll have to rip your new bathroom out to correct it.
posted by electroboy at 1:15 PM on November 20, 2008

There's a reason homes aren't allowed to direct rainwater into the sewer system. Sure, your hookup might be "negligible", but what do you think would happen if everyone in your neighborhood decided to direct their rainwater into the sewer? Ever have sewage back-up into the streets? Or into your basement?

1. Get a permit.
2. Get the job done to code
3. Avoid penalties.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2008

Information about your house (like the square footage, number of bathrooms, and so on, is part of the public record, and is used for everything from tax valuations to (in some places) assessing sewerage fees. Here is a sample property on the King County website (the address was the default one that came up on the entry page here).

The same detail of information is available about your house to any idiot with a computer connection. A small change (say, changing the size of your linen closet) isn't a big deal, but an entire new bathroom? That's enough to cause real problems when someone eventually notices that the information on file doesn't match what has been done to your house.

And this is a large part of why going ahead with major work without a permit is a bad idea. Planning on ever selling the house? Filing a major insurance claim? Getting it assessed for a refinance on your mortgage? What about when you get into a big spat with a neighbor and they rat you out?

Personally, I'd be very hesitant about hiring a contractor who wants to do a job of this size unpermitted. Yes, almost every job has elements that aren't perfectly to code, that's no big deal. But the risk of this sort of thing is going to rest almost entirely with you, and probably won't save you all that much money. Also for you to consider: if it turns out that the contractor did the (unpermitted) work in a substandard way, what's your recourse? Building inspectors are hella irritating to have to deal with, but they do provide the occasionally very useful service of taking a look at the work that was done, and preventing some dangerous situations from developing.

Lastly, the rules about running gutters into the sewer system are there for a reason (both cost and environmental); the contractor who is trying to get you to do it illegally ("the way we always used to do it," right?) is being pretty unethical on this one. I think you should rethink your approach, and stay at least slightly on the above-board side of things.
posted by Forktine at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Rereading your question, now I'm maybe thinking you are asking about having the bathroom be permitted, but the drain work unpermitted? That's a lot less risky than having everything unpermitted, but still unethical and illegal in terms of running your drain water into the sewer.
posted by Forktine at 1:34 PM on November 20, 2008

I agree with others that adding clean water to the sanitary sewer system is a bad idea, for all the reasons listed above. However, Seattle's sewer system is complex and a closer look muddies the water a bit.

Here are the City of Seattle rules (PDF) governing footing and other subsurface drains (look at Section VII.H and Exhibits 8 and 9). Since you are in a basement, I'd assume you'll need a sump pump. That pump can either discharge to land (probably rare cases where this would work well), or to a catch basin on your property. Where that catch basin is allowed to drain depends on where you live.

If you live in an area served by seperate sanitary and storm sewers, then the catch basin should tie into the storm sewer. Makes sense.

If you live in an area served by combined sewer (check your side sewer card to find out), your catch basin should tie back into your side sewer on the street side of the property line. That means that you installed a pump, separate pipe, and catch basin to do very little, as the water ends up in the combined sewer anyway. I imagine this set up is required so that if the city ever separates the sewer in that area, the waters are already correctly segregated at the property line. That may not ever happen, so I can see why folks might be tempted not to pay the extra expense of doing it to code.
posted by rube goldberg at 2:48 PM on November 20, 2008

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I was only asking about the dangers of a permit-less bathroom, but the stormwater thing is another good point. Just to clarify a few things.

1) The bathroom guy isn't proposing doing anything permitless. He's going to obtain the permit for adding the bathroom fixtures. My concern is just that I won't have time for an inspection before the waterproofing guy shows up. And I can't get an inspection after he shows up, because the stormwater->sewer thing won't pass inspection at all (although the drainage guy tells me that an inspection isn't legally required).

2) The ethics of a stormwater -> sewer system. Honestly, it never occurred to me that this would impact the sewer system unfairly; I just assumed this was a standard procedure. I'm glad you said something, and I'll ask the waterproofer if there's another way. But consider this counter-argument: every winter, our basement floods a little. Not much, just enough to make the rugs damp. And when it does, it drains into a floor drain (which was here when we moved in), which drains to the sewer line anyway. Adding a drainage system just catches the water before it gets to the rugs.

I realize this is not ethically impeccable reasoning. I'm basically saying that, rather than changing my sewer impact from bad to good, I'm just changing it from bad to bad-but-convienent (and even the bad is not so bad: maybe 40 gallons (= two showers) per flood, a couple times per year). I've left a message for the waterproofing guy to ask about this, but it seems the system he's proposing at least isn't making the situation worse, sewer-wise.
posted by molybdenum at 3:35 PM on November 20, 2008

Rube, thanks for the links. On the side sewer card it looks like there's a single outlet from our house to the sanitary line. Our street also has a storm sewer, but with no connection to our house (interestingly, other houses on our street have one connection to each). So I suppose that means I have a combined sewer? In which case, I'd have to connect my drain to a sanitary sewer anyway (but could in principle connect it to a storm sewer in the future if the city chooses to separate the two)?
posted by molybdenum at 4:02 PM on November 20, 2008

Just to resolve this for anyone still reading (and Seattle code inspectors browsing online), we went down to the city permit office today. Here's what we learned: our house was built in 1911, and connected to the city sewer system in 1936. Back then, they only had sanitary sewers, not storm sewers, so the house is only hooked up to that. For that reason, we're apparently allowed to drain stormwater into the sewer pipe (without a sump pump), and still meet code.

As for the bathroom permit, we filed it this afternoon at the same office. So we're all squared away! Thanks everyone who offered advice.
posted by molybdenum at 6:57 PM on November 20, 2008

That's a great outcome. I'm glad the city took a reasonable approach. Enjoy your dry basement and new bathroom.
posted by rube goldberg at 7:30 PM on November 20, 2008

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