I never got my basment inspected. Should I?
June 20, 2006 7:10 AM   Subscribe

When we finished my basement, I never got it inspected or approved by the town. Is this going to be a big problem for us?

We had a concrete basement, dry, and we wanted to make a family room. A friends dad, who is a licensed contractor, did the work with us, on the side. No plumbing, just framing, drywall and electrical. He is a licensed electrician as well. We never got the electrical inspected, nor did we pull a permit. This was about 3 years ago. Should I have it inspected? Should I just wait until we decide to sell (if ever)? What are the ramifications of not having something like this inspected?
posted by quibx to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
If you aren't going to sell soon, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Doohickie at 7:20 AM on June 20, 2006

Conversely, if you are going to sell, this could be a big problem. If the work wasn't inspected, a potential buyer will expect the worst. The worst-case scenario is that you'll need to have the inspection done after-the-fact, which likely will involve removing drywall so that the inspector can actually inspect the electrical work.

If you're not going to be selling soon, though, it shouldn't be a huge problem.
posted by gwenzel at 7:48 AM on June 20, 2006

It's too late to have it inspected now. Electrical work is supposed to be inspected before the walls are put up over the wires and again afterwards. Check your local laws. Sometimes just adding a few outlets isn't something that needs a permit.

If the house burns down due to faulty wiring that wasn't inspected your insurance company could deny your claim and your friend's dad could get into trouble. As long as the right cable is on the right breakers that's probably not going to happen.

If the room can be considered a bedroom (and in some states even a 'family room' can be considered a bedroom... the 'closet rule' is a myth) and your lot is limited to a certain number of bedrooms it could be a problem when you go to sell. A basement room is probably not going to count as a bedroom unless there is an egress window.

The Right Thing To Do, of course, is to have it inspected and hope the inspector doesn't make you tear the walls down or fine you, and move on.

Chances are 3/4 of the houses on your street have had similar un-inspected work done.

I wouldn't worry about it, but I'm not a town-inspector-guy or a lawyer, just a homeowner.
posted by bondcliff at 7:54 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, once the City finds out about the finished basement it MAY affect your property taxes somewhat (but likely by a small amount) because the value of your property is now increased, so your assessment would increase. You can anonomously call your local assessment agency and find out what the rules are in your jurisdiction.

Where I live and work (two years in the assessment & proeprty tax department) finished basements add to value & increase your taxes slightly, but it's a tiny percentage compared to the total value of your home & therefore your total tax bill.

(If this is too opaque, just ask and I can launch into a longer winded explanation.)
posted by raedyn at 8:01 AM on June 20, 2006

Also where I live, a permit is what triggers an assessor to come out and inspect your property to determine if there is a change in value. If you don't pull a permit, the City won't know about the work, and won't start charging you until the discover it - which might be years later. There's no way for them to go back and charge you for past years. Equally, if you demolish a deck or remove basement finish or something without pulling a demolition permit, the City won't know about it and will keep charging you the taxes as if it's there. Once they find out about the change, they'll stop charging you but there's no way for them to go back and refund your overpayments from past years because it's your responsibility to confirm that the City's information is correct.

Some people think that sounds wacky, but if you think about how the City has tens or hundreds of thousands of properties to keep track of (in Ontario, for instance, the assessment agency is for the entire province and they assess over 4 million properties) there's just no possible way for them to know what is happening in every property all the time. At least not without hiring a staff of thousands, and that would cost waaaaayyyyy too much money.

The broad strokes of the rules are similar in various North American jurisdictions, but the specifics can be wildly different, so YMMV. It's possible that where you live if they find out about the work somewhere in the future, they could back charge you. My intention in mentioning this is not to tell you what the rules are where you live, but to make you aware of an angle you may have not considered. Call your municipality and find out who does the assessments in your area so you can educate yourself on your local laws. (example: if you live in City of Boston proper, here is the Boston Assessing Department's webpage)
posted by raedyn at 8:27 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bondcliff has it right. I did a flip of my kitchen and family room thinking I did not need a permit since I was not changing the footprint of the house or demolishing any interior walls.

The big concern while living there is the insurance. It could be invalid if the cause of the fire was the non-inspected work.

When selling, you will need a CO which will require the put-off inspection. My town wanted to get it right, so they inspected with as minimal intrusion as possible and charged me the fee (of course!)

One possible help at inspection time is to have the electrician there to answer questions. Not sure if he wants to have his name out there as doing uninspected work which may jeapordize his license in the town/county.

Your taxes will also likely go up if it is considered an imporvement.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2006

Let's talk realistically here for a minute.

Does your town maintain an accurate database of what the interior and exterior features are of every house in your town? Hell no. It's just too much to ask for in any town of any size.

Therefore, live with it, enjoy it, and so on.

Let's say, heaven forbid, your house has a wiring-related fire due to this work. Yes, your insurance company could deny the claim, but how the hell are they going to find out? The only way I could see it coming back to bite you is if the electrical work was truly incompetent and that came up in the fire marshal's report and someone went to the trouble of pulling town records to see if there was a building permit or inspection. In short, not bloody likely.
posted by plinth at 10:59 AM on June 20, 2006

The plural of anecdote is not data, but here's one for you anyways -

I have a relative who initially made some small, innocuous changes without having them inspected or approved. Now he does all the work on his house himself because he's constantly paranoid that the city is going to find out about his prior modifications, and with every project he undertakes he digs himself in deeper. Now his half-completed projects are eating his free time and he's falling further and further behind because he doesn't feel he can hire help without tipping the city off.

So, paranoia aside, on top of everything else, if you want to make a large change to your home later, one that can't be easily concealed, you're going to have to bring in an inspector and there's a chance that they'll notice your basement.
posted by lekvar at 1:26 PM on June 20, 2006

About a year and a half ago, we bought a house with an un-permitted bathroom & bedroom space in Berkeley CA.
Before placing our bid, my wife anonymously called the city permitting office, and asked what the ramification
were. We learned:

1) If a permit violation was discovered, it is the responsibility of the current homeowner, whether they did the work or not. According to our Real Estate agent, a seller is required to disclose information about unpermitted
work for exactly this reason.

2) Worst case scenario is the city could require us to rip out all the unpermitted work, or at least rip out enough to get everything inspected (as others have noted, you need plumbing & electrical inspections before the walls go
up). IIRC, we would also have to buy all the proper permits, and might face a small fine.

3) There was pretty much no chance of the city discovering the work on its own. The most common way the city learns of unpermitted work is when new, permitted, work is done, the inspectors see a problem with the old
work, and ask for or try and pull the old permits and inspections. No one is going to come to our house for a surprise inspection, or call you up & ask if you have any unpermitted work.

Of course, YMMV based on where you live. Best advice is to call the city. My wife found the permitting office folks
both friendly and helpful
posted by FfejL at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2006

There is a difference between the issues with the assessment & taxation side vs the housing standards side. I think perhaps that's clouding the issues here. The rules are different for each department. I'm not talking about the building & housing standards side at all. I don't have any particular knowledge about that. But I know quite a bit about the assessment side, since my work for the past 2 years has been in an assessment department fielding calls from property owners / taxpayers.

In most jurisdictions, including Massachusetts where the OP lives, assessors are required by statute to do physical inspections on a regular basis. How often 'regular' means depends on where you live. It's not often, but it is regular. I couldn't quickly find the answer online about what the statutory requirement is in MA, but if you call your local assessment agency they'd be able to tell you.
posted by raedyn at 7:33 AM on June 21, 2006

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