Permits Schmermits

Real Estate Appraiser with Ashcroft & Associates

This article reminded me of my experience with the permit process was for a gas fireplace that we had installed last year. 

After installation, a very nice elderly gentleman came to our door. This man, the inspector should have retired many moons ago. He was more interested in our ‘nice kitchen' and friendly dogs than the fireplace he came to inspect.  I kept directing him toward the fireplace in hopes that our taxes wouldn't go up further because the kitchen has been updated (with permits, mind you).

I picked up the remote to the fireplace and turned it on for him.  He lit up as if he'd just walked into the 21stfireplace century... looking quite shocked that a fireplace could be turned on by remote.

Mr. Inspector never got closer than 5 feet from that fireplace.  He did not make sure it was set properly into its framing, or that the wiring correct.  He did not even look on the exterior wall for installation maladies.

Sure I could have complained, but then what would the city have done in retaliation?  My thinking is ‘just blend in'.

So there you have it... $50 for the ‘inspection' and a 10% hike in my taxes this year (ok... that's not all from the fireplace, but it sure feels like it).   The only thing I feel good about after this inspection is that the city can't point fingers at me if I end up with a faulty fireplace that burns down my house.

Now I realize that in my professional life I am not to give value to un-permitted additions, un-permitted finished basements, un-permitted converted garages, etc. etc., but I have to say, I understand where people might be reluctant to go to the city when they are quite capable of doing their job and the city worker might not be... 

Please note that I have the utmost respect for inspectors and recommend them whole-heartedly to home owners even if they are purchasing a new construction property.  I am just blowing steam about permits and one city inspector...

Comments (37)

Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Hi Vincent - Thanks for dropping in!

Peter - I would hope that the city at least inspected the converted garage post-construction before declaring it condemnable? 

Charles - Thanks ... I will do that, but what about just a second opinion from another licensed contractor?  I mean, should I really trust the city at this point?

Hey Kenneth - That's a very interesting point and I'd love to hear what other inspectors think about cities throughout the country that don't have the resources to have a city inspection department.

Jeffrey - That is an excellent point.  I don't think I've ever had a project completed by one professional that wasn't berated or contested not to be up to code by another professional... even after the permits have been signed off on.

Feb 02, 2008 03:15 AM
Herb Hamilton
RE/MAX Preferred Inc. Realtors - Portland, OR
Real Estate Broker ,CDPE, Downtown Portland

The quality of inspections for any municipality and especially Portland is sometimes subject to disgust. It is also not abnormal for Inspector's to get side tracked. The primary reason is that they often cover for each other. An inspector who normally covers Insulation for example and has limited knowledge about Fireplaces may be asked to cover that based on previous inspections.

Example: The case load says that there must be 100 inspections that day with only 10 inspectors to cover. Normally that would be 10 each. However after examining the inspection requests they find that Fourty of the requests have had multiple problems on previous inspections. Hence the more qualified individuals that specialize in that request will most likely cover those problem files while the remainder of the requests may get devided up between the rest of the inspector's. Those inspectors will show up to complete the cycle of paperwork required and will normally only take a cursory look to see if there are any blatant problems.

In addition often times the work being done is by an outside Contractor and not the home owner. Once again the city has knowledge of past inspections by these companies. Those that are known to do the work to higher than code standards are often given only a cursory glimpse where as problem contractors will enjoy the full monte so to speek.

Congrats on feature.

Feb 02, 2008 03:25 AM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser
Thank you, Herb - These are good points and it's understandable when city inspectors are overloaded.  There is little they can do about that until the city allots them more money for additional inspectors. 
Feb 03, 2008 12:23 PM
Kent Simpson
Realty One Group Mountain Desert - Tucson, AZ
Real Estate Is About People

The devil is the permit you don't get.

I'm in agreement with the value of independent, professional home inspectors though.  Never trust a government body to do the job of a professional.

Mar 04, 2008 02:55 PM
Matt Yogerst
RE/MAX Realty 100 - Menomonee Falls, WI
Metro Milwaukee Real Estate
That is sorta like some of the electrical inspectors around here (used to be an electrician). They walk in the door (if they made it out of their trucks) and glance left/right, and say 'good day'. That is if they didnt just call on the phone and say.... "how deep did you bury it?" US- "2ft" Him- "ok, you passed". HAHA What a joke. Not that we did a bad job, we took our work seriously, professionally, and were proud of it. Maybe after awhile the inspector just knew the kind of work we did and had faith in us.
Mar 07, 2008 03:22 PM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Kent - I hear you there.... ("The devil is the permit you don't get.")being an appraiser, we have to break the news to folks all the time that unfortunately that extra addition or third bathroom they installed has to have a permit before most lenders will give them any money -

Matt - It seems like a lot of contractors prefer that over the inspectors that hold up a project because there is a new code change that nobody informed the contractor on....

I like how the government gets paid on both ends with the permit process - On one end, the contractors, electricians, plumbers, ect must be licensed prior to applying for the permits (in most cases) and on the other end, once the improvements are made, it can significantly affect your taxes.  I think safety is the last thing on many city inspectors minds...  Brilliant, really...

Are there any city inspectors on board here? 

Mar 08, 2008 04:11 AM
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection
Sarah if there were, they might be ashamed to admit it.
Mar 08, 2008 10:33 AM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

That could be, Bob - But honestly, I don't think that they would be interested in being an AR participant at all...

I feel bad for these folks.

Mar 15, 2008 09:47 AM
Andy Raffle
Emery Federal Credit Union - Yardley, PA
Team Leader - NMLS#156564

I do nothing without permits.  It's simply not worth the potential porblems and, once they catch you doing somethign without permits, teh inpectors will be brutal from that day forward.  Play the game, make nice and pay the fee and all will be well.



Sep 23, 2008 02:53 AM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Hi Andy -

I'm not sure if any other state has proposed or passed this, but just think if this were on the ballot in NJ.  Would you let it slide if the inspectors had no say in the matter?  Or have you seen as many hack job do-it-yourself improvements as the rest of us?

Sep 23, 2008 03:29 AM
Jerry Hill
Hill Realty - Bryant, AR

Sara, some people may say, "What the heck are you complaining about?  The fireplace passed the inspection."  I think that what you are dealing with is called a conscience.  Most people would have done a dance after the inspector left, thinking they got a bargain or pulled the wool over someone's eyes.  What I have seen with many inspectors is they have been "kicked in the teeth" so many times for doing their jobs, they basically just go along, to get along.  If you complained about this guy, more than likely the people you complain to, are the same people who caused the problem to start with but you have to always do the right thing.

Nov 10, 2008 01:06 AM
Frank Torre
Torre Inspection Service, LLC 888-202-8869 - Hicksville, NY

In NYC there are alot of uncover sting operations on going to catch inspectors. Some by the media and some by the Building Department, if the inspector accept a cup of coffee he or she will be fired.

Nov 10, 2008 08:32 AM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Hi Jerry - My friend will be finalizing a 9 day stay at the hospital tomorrow from smoke inhalation that he suffered due to a house fire with bad wiring.  I'm not saying it was due to a hack wiring job, I think it was just old and unmaintained.  Either way, it makes you think...

Frank - That's amazing that they are doing sting operations.  And it's sad that they feel they have to.  I must admit, I would have offered the inspector at our house a coffee if I thought that might keep him there a couple more minutes.

Nov 11, 2008 01:12 PM
Frank Harris
Keller Williams Realty Centre - Columbia, MD

Since housing has slowed down, many inspectors seem to have extra time on their hands and seem to cite the oddest items. You came out not too bad. I have heard some horrifying stories from rehabbers.

Nov 20, 2008 01:46 PM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Hello Frank - I have heard more horror stories about the 'over-inspection' than the 'under-inspection'.  That's why I found it odd that the inspector that came out from the city barely set foot in the living room. 

Nov 24, 2008 02:40 AM
Frank Torre
Torre Inspection Service, LLC 888-202-8869 - Hicksville, NY

I do not know why the inspector that came to inspect your new gas fireplace. Never step foot in your living room to do the inspection it is baffling to me. The first thing I would have ask you is do you have a carbon monoxide detector in your living room, and then I would have started my inspection. In NYC we have had 3 cranes fall and people died, the inspectors wrote up the cranes but nothing was done. Now their are special investigation to see what happen. 

Nov 24, 2008 01:11 PM
James Lyon
Vista Pacific Realty - Sacramento, CA

It really depends on who you get and what mood they are in. Sometimes they are in a great mood and would pass anything and other days they are not. I see the same with pest inspectors, sometimes they are in and out in minutes, 5min=$125, not bad.

Aug 31, 2009 05:52 PM
Cody Sperber
Clever Investor - Chandler, AZ

My extremely old pool inspector flagged my outdoor grill for being too close to the pool.  It was a new grill and we just took it out of the box and set it on the floor next to the pool so we could take the old one off which was about 10 feet away!  He didn't bother to look around, or take the time to use some common sense and ask himself why anyone would want to grill on the ground????

That just goes to show just how "observant" some inspectors are!

I feel your pain,

Cody SperberAKA Klever Investor

Jan 28, 2010 12:03 AM
Sara Goodwin
Ashcroft & Associates - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

True true, Frank.  We have a couple of bridges in town that are seriously in danger of collapsing (one I literally won't drive over unless I have no other choice).  Everyone knows of the danger, in fact there's a group that often sends surveys and polls out to the public to ask 'how important is fixing the bridge?' and yet no one has prioritized it over the other many pot-hole filled activities that are in progress.

James ~ Having worked for the county in the past, I feel confident in saying that good moods are rare, and I was happy to deal with this happy county worker for a change.

So Cody... you're saying this is not even an installed/permanent grill?  I suppose it's best to be thorough, aye?

Jan 28, 2010 03:53 AM
Wendy Tomm
Beyond the Walls - East St Paul, MB
CCSP, RESA-PRO, BBB - Wpg Realtors

Well you have had some interesting comments.  I am all about safety so better to be certain it is installed correctly.  I would call them back and make them send out someone who knows what they are looking for. 

Sep 24, 2011 10:18 AM