Navigating Unpermitted Renovations in a Historic Home: Seeking Insight


Well-known member
Aug 26, 2023
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I recently came across a thought-provoking question on Reddit, and I believe our community can provide valuable insights. A homeowner in Denver recently acquired a vintage property dating back to 1908 and uncovered a series of renovation projects that had never received proper permits. Most notably, the garage had undergone extensive renovations and had even been rented out at one point. To bring the property into compliance with current building codes, the homeowner has since taken steps to update the garage.

However, they now face a dilemma - should they invite a city inspector to assess the situation and potentially seek retroactive permits? The homeowner is understandably concerned about potential repercussions or being flagged for further scrutiny. Additionally, they have aspirations of renting out the space again, adding another layer of complexity to the situation.

In light of this scenario, I'm eager to hear your expert opinions on how the homeowner should proceed. What would be the most prudent and effective course of action for them, particularly in the context of planning to rent out the space in the future?
Denver, Colorado, United States
I think this is a relatively common scenario - i.e., someone completes unauthorized work without thinking to get a permit, then realizes they needed a permit but are now hesitant to apply for one because of unknowns about how the government will respond. I can understand people in this situation being fearful of worst-case scenarios, such as the inspector coming out and noticing severe code violations and then levying super large fines or requiring unaffordable repairs. The Reddit poster also mentions they're afraid of "getting on a list." No one wants to voluntarily flag themselves as a troublemaker. Fear of getting the government involved can lead people to feel like silence is safety and take no action - I get that.

By and large, I agree with the comments from the Reddit users on that thread. Most were positive about the helpfulness of the Denver building department and its inspectors, especially if it's clear you're being cooperative and acting in good faith. One Reddit user mentioned that building departments are usually "really cool" when it comes to after-the-fact permitting. I know all building departments definitely aren't viewed this positively but if I were the Reddit poster I think I'd have been reassured by these comments. Government staff generally are good people who really do want to work with you and help you out to the full extent they're able to. Hopefully the Reddit poster followed up on the advice they received and were able to work effectively with the Denver building department to get their garage renovations up to code.

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