Permits And Codes And Fines, Oh My!

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After completing their home, one of our recent clients told us:

“When we were building our home, I was fascinated by the amount of red tape that Jenkins had to wade through in order to move from one phase of building to the next. And while I admit that I did not bother to learn all the details of this process, I was glad for the checks and balances the system provided.”

Generally speaking, a building permit is required whenever there is new construction. A building permit is basically a document authorizing the holder to construct a building of a particular kind on a particular lot. Unfortunately, there are many different types of permits for that same structure, but they do allow the entity holding them to construct the building given that they follow building codes for that specific area. “What is a building code?”, you may ask. The most general definition of a building code is a “Set of standards established and enforced by local government for the structural safety of buildings.” The purpose of these codes is both the safety and good health of the occupants of the structure as well as the public at large.

The key, then, is knowing and understanding the codes. They can be difficult to navigate, especially by someone not familiar with all the various agencies involved and which ones will need approval in a particular area. Generally speaking, a residential structure (a home) may need the approval of any or all of the following:

  • A local HOA (Homeowners Association) or Architectural Committee
  • The city in which it will be built
  • The county in which it will be built
  • The state in which it will be built
  • Any water regulating agency or provider
  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and/or LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority), if the property meets certain criteria
  • The electric company or energy provider
  • You may also need the approval of the EPA or other government agencies, depending on specific situations, such as drainage or environmental impact.

Building Permits Codes FinesIt would be great if it was up to the city to notify the state and county of your intentions to build and so forth, but for the most part, these agencies do not communicate with each other or your builder. It’s up to your builder to notify them – or be faced with massive fines because there was an agency he missed (like, Water District #10, for instance). In addition, certain agencies will require a permit from a different agency before they will even review the plans. What is really fun is when two different agencies will demand certain permits from each other but won’t acknowledge that it’s impossible for both agencies to get said permits from each other simultaneously (oh, yes, it has happened!).

Once permits are issued, what is to keep the builder from doing/building whatever he/she wants? That is where inspections come in to play. Many of these organizations require inspections at various stages of construction before construction can continue. An inspector is trained in building codes and walks the jobsite to ensure compliance. On a Jenkins job, we add a professional third party inspection company as peace of mind for our homeowners. That way, even if the local agency does not inspect for code compliance, someone does. The inspections are all written up and provided to the homeowner at completion of construction.

So, the upside of all the red tape is that you know someone other than your architect and builder have put eyes on your plans for safety and code compliance. The downside is that construction might be delayed while awaiting permits or an inspection, or worse yet, you might be fined for not having all the right permits. But there does seem to be one obvious conclusion to draw from all of this: do your homework and find a builder with an excellent track record!

So what do you think? Are codes and permits just an annoyance or do you think they do their intended job of protecting the investor?

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