Help Yourself by Helping Your City with Code Compliance
How did that happen? Why didn’t someone stop it? Citizens are often taken aback when they see a building that is or has become an eyesore. Perhaps the signage is garish and out of character for the neighborhood. Or maybe the building does not honor appropriate setbacks from the property boundaries or the street. Construction could be occurring on nights and weekends and is a noise disturbance. In all of these cases, neighbors wonder if the City or County is monitoring the situation, but they might not do anything to find out.
Many City and County governments have cut back on their staffing for budgetary reasons and they don’t have anyone driving around checking on building sites. They are basically “complaint driven”. In other words, they won’t inspect a location unless a neighbor reports that there may be a compliance problem. Sometimes a Building Inspector may notice something under construction while they are going to other building sites, but most likely no action will be taken unless someone calls or emails the City to check on the status. If construction is occurring on nights and weekends only, it is likely that the contractor is working “under the table” illegally, and without a proper building permit.
As a neighbor, why is this important to you? First of all, health and safety of surrounding buildings is critical to you. If there is illegal construction going on, it is likely that the structure is not built to current codes and the builder or owner may be cutting corners on things like structural support, electrical wiring, etc. The illegal construction could cause a collapse, or a fire, endangering yourself or your nearby building. Secondly, illegal construction can lower the value of your building because when that building is sold; the illegal construction must be disclosed, thereby lowering the selling price. That lower price goes on public record, making the “comparables” for your property lower than they would otherwise be. Also, the building permit process collects fees that help support your local government and public schools, which benefits the community where you live or work. Illegal construction bypasses those fees and cheats the school district and town of needed revenue (from the impact of the new construction). Lastly, illegal construction affects your friendly local architects, engineers and licensed contractors, who are complying with local, state and national regulations and who contribute to a better quality of life in your community.
There is an easy way to check on the construction going on in the vicinity of your home or place of business and we encourage you to find out more information. Go to your City/Town/County website and search for “building permits”. See if there is a list of permitted projects to find the address that you are interested in. If there is no list online, you could call the Planning & Building Department to get the information. They will be happy to help you. It is to their benefit to know about illegal construction.
If there is no permit, then let the Building Department know that there is construction going on at that address. You can ask the Building Department to send an inspector out to determine compliance with codes and ordinances. You can take photos or a video of the illegal construction to provide more information and evidence to the Building Inspector. (You can ask to remain anonymous, and not be identified to your neighbor as having made the report.)
The inspector may halt the construction and require the owner to go through the permit process and pay the appropriate fees. He/she could also allow the construction, but do an inspection to make sure that it complies with the required codes, assuring that no health and safety violations will occur.
If there is a permit, it is public information. There is a lot of important information available to you. For example, you can check what was permitted and what the construction will consist of. If the building is being enlarged, you can find out how high or how much square footage is being added. You can find out the owner’s contact information. Knowing what is allowed in your area may benefit you if you are planning to make changes to your own building. You may even want to contact the other owner to find out what changes they are making and what costs they incurred. This information is very helpful when it comes time to improve or sell your own building.
So, if you see construction going on in your area, take a few minutes to check it out and, if necessary, let your City or County Building Department know about it. You will be doing yourself and your community a service!
– Lorianna Kastrop Vice President The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects