Who gets a taste?
September 20, 2016 4:16 PM   Subscribe

We recently had our upstairs bathroom completely redone and apparently there was some work needed to bring the plumbing up to code. The contractor said that he didn't account for that in the estimate and we'd need to pay the plumber directly. (Yes, the plot thickens!)

Here's our question: who determines if the plumbing meets code? Is it the plumber? Is it the contractor (the lead guy) or is it the inspector who comes to check every part of the work?

We're looking to get a breakdown from the contractor (who is getting it from the plumber) but are wondering who determines whether something is up to code and/or additional work needs to be done.

(Yes, hubs is worried about contractor pulling a scam. I don't think he is but do want to have all our ducks in appropriate rows when we talk to him this weekend to finalize payment.)

posted by Mysticalchick to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Without specifics it's hard to tell! The building department in your jurisdiction can answer the question about whether or not your plumbing is up to code...

Do not finalize payment until you research whatever fine points you want to know about with your building department. Can you take pictures of the thing to be corrected? Make the contractor show you what is not to code. Bring those to the building department.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:26 PM on September 20, 2016

The inspector (as a representative of the building department) ultimately determines what is up to code. The contractor and plumber will know the code in general, if they're up to snuff. So when the plumber says something isn't to code, they're basically offering to fix something that will otherwise cause you huge headaches when the inspector comes to sign off on the work.

Has an inspection been scheduled? Sometimes work permits need to be issued before work can even start--depending on your jurisdiction.

"The code" they're talking about is the building code issued by your municipality or county (whichever governs you). It's usually included right in the municipal code and sometimes refers to national standards, like "City of X adopts National Plumbing Code 2006."

If your contractor demands extra money to bring something up to code, but doesn't have an inspection planned or permit that needs signing off on (by an inspector), that's a potential red flag. Again, it really depends on your jurisdiction.

On preview, jbenben's advice is good. You might also see if whoever licenses contractors in your jurisdiction has a contractor database--you can check up to make sure your contractor is licensed, bonded and whether they've been sued before. Another way to assess your contractor's trustworthiness.
posted by purple_bird at 4:29 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Has your contractor schedule the inspection? Is there anything in your contract about the contractors' license, insurance, inspection, or other CYA type stuff? Did this contractor come to you through word of mouth? Advertisement? Door flyer?

You have a couple of possible paths here. One of which, though I don't recommend it without knowing he details of your situation, is calling your code enforcement authority to let them know you think your contractor is doing work on your property without a permit and asking if they could come check it your site. This potentially burns a lot of bridges and opens you up to fines. So tread carefully. But absolutely make sure the work is not just 'up to code' but also permitted and on file with your agency as being approved, completed, and correctly completed.

One of the things that permits pay for is inspections. Which feels fine to skip when it's your house and you trust your contractors, but when you're attending a party on the deck of your friends' home, the moment of its collapse is not when you want to be reminded that every inspection is important.

It's like herd immunity. For houses.
posted by bilabial at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

All the permits were filed and the work has been done with inspections at each step so I feel good about that. It appears to me that everything has been done on the up and up.

Our issue is that there was no estimate given before the additional work started and we're wondering how much extra it will be. When we look at a breakdown from the contractor/plumber, we want to be sure that the $ we're paying the plumber is not going into the contractor's pocket.

Thanks for your responses! Much appreciated.
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:33 PM on September 20, 2016

You could potentially ask the building inspector if he required additional work before he signed off. But to me, that is not the point. If you had the work done with permits, by definition the plumber should have done his work to code. To me, the relevant issue is was there some issue the inspector had that was not part of the work done by the plumber as part of the renovation. If so, then I would readily pay. If it is something he was doing as part of the renovation, it seems as if he is implying he intended to do it not up to code, but the inspector busted him so he did a little more work to get it up to code.

Get an itemized bill from either of them and confirm with the other and maybe with the building department inspector.
posted by AugustWest at 6:41 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mysticalchick: "who determines if the plumbing meets code?"

The inspector has final say but the plumber is also going to make that call. Your trade person doesn't want to do work that doesn't pass inspection because it pisses off the client and the inspection authority.

As an example and speaking now for electrical inspections in my jurisdiction (but it works similarly here for plumbing) because that is what I know. A contractor needs to have someone on his staff who holds an FSR licence for the type of work they are doing. It is the FSR who calls for inspections. Less than 15% of inspections called for by an FSR actually result in a site visit. If an inspector does not inspect within two full business days the inspection passes. This is because the FSR has signed paperwork affirming the installation meets Code requirements (they do that when they request the inspection).

If the inspector does show but finds deficiencies a note of that is made in the FSR's file. The more of these that happen the more often an inspector will visit the FSR sites when inspections are requested (the computer system determines this). Fail too often or too many inspections in an arbitrary period and your FSR can be marked for mandatory inspection or ultimately revoked.
posted by Mitheral at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

What was the specific work?

Often times I've found that subcontractors are not very client/process-focused, and will go ahead and solve a problem, then ask for payment for it (in a change order) afterwards.

Sometimes the fix is warranted (X original work needed to happen before anything else did, and the plumber didn't want to waste time and money waiting), and sometimes the fix isn't super necessary. If you have a rotten contractor, they'll try to make up any costs by forcing some additional change orders on you by doing work that wasn't quite necessary.

It depends on your contract. Presumably you signed one with the general contractor, and you paid him, and he paid the subs?

Personally I try to make it a point to clarify that changeorders submitted after the work is done will not be honored. Looks like that ship has sailed. I'd:

1) Verify that the work done was in fact necessary by requiring documentation/photos
2) Push on the GC to absorb the cost, since they didn't notify you beforehand
3) If the cost is less than 15% of the original project budget, offer to split it with the GC

If the cost is less than 15% of the project budget, that's pretty reasonable of an overage assuming that everything else was on time and on budget (ish).
posted by suedehead at 6:53 PM on September 20, 2016

So first I'm assuming this is not new work that's not up to code but an old existing issue discovered when the walls were opened up.

An inspector is usually not limited to checking "new work" if there is an existing issue they can flag it and make you fix it before clearing the new work. So ultimately the inspector makes the call but most legit competent contractors will do what yours did and let you address the issue before the inspector makes you do it. Sometimes a contractor will give you the option to try to see if the inspector is having a good day and will let the old condition slide but If the new work is closely tied to the existing work where you'd need to redo the new work to fix the issue then this is not really an option.

If it's a condition behind the walls that could not be anticipated then this is a legit change order.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:09 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

One other note though I'm not sure if the work is done or not. Your contractor should not be coming to you fait accompli with a bill. That's bullshit, and you're well within your rights to push back on the bill.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:07 PM on September 20, 2016

So, with lack of details noted, how has your bathroom worked so far? The code book is pretty big and kind of extensively elaborate (depending on where you are - NYC's is quite comprehensive but if you go two hours north it's just this side of water goes down payday is Friday).
Code 'violations' could be anything from pipes not being properly supported to plumbing that flat out doesn't work. My point being that the building inspector (and maybe a discreet (very important) second opinion) should be the criteria for what needs to get done - assuming things worked fine in the first place. (Were they changed at some point in the past ? How did these violations arise? How did you buy a house with active violations?
The phrase 'plumbing violations' contains multitudes, among them enough wiggle room for the unscrupulous to exploit.
[worked as a plumber for a couple handfuls of years]
posted by From Bklyn at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2016

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