Who gets held liable?

Fenix

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Let's be honest, try as we might to understand the permitting requirements surrounding our projects, we often fall short, so we rely on other professionals to sort them out. Now I'm wondering what happens when it all goes wrong. Who takes the liability when the building isn't up to code, the proper permits weren't pulled, and someone gets hurt due to a structural defect? Where does the liability lie when the homeowner tries to sell the home and only then finds out that the shed he had built on the property was over the square footage that was stated by the builder, thus he's failed to obtain the correct building permit for it? We're putting a lot of faith in builders, contractors, and developers. Do you ever worry about that?
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There are some worries that come into it. You're relying on these people, and sometimes they may have glowing reviews, it doesn't mean they can't make mistakes either. I would imagine the blame lies with the homeowner first. But, the homeowner would likely have a case against the contractor/builders who made the mistake. You could probably collect payment for any repairs/fixes that need to be made. I prefer the idea of having the builder come back to make the building to code first instead. And would also request the builder to pay for any permits and repairs. I think that's fair for getting the homeowner in such a situation.

One thing I'd recommend, is having someone else come in and inspect the work, even if the current contractor says all is good, it probably wouldn't hurt to get another contractor out to verify all is up to code.
 
@Jake, this reminds me of our previous discussion about that Atlanta news channel that was warning Georgia homeowners not to rush to hire contractors to make storm damage repairs. Some homeowners were hiring unlicensed contractors and then losing lots of money when those contractors later walked off the job. Homeowners don't always check to make sure the contractor they're hiring is properly licensed and bonded, which can be a major problem from a liability standpoint.

The best thing contractors can do to avoid potential liability issues and legal strife is to make sure they're fully licensed and bonded. For homeowners, the bonding in particular ensures the necessary funds are available to complete their project in the event that the contractor is unable to finish the work for whatever reason.
 
I always worry about hiring people to do any work on my home or any property of mine. There's always that risk that something could go wrong. I always make sure to verify who it is I'm hiring, so I don't hire someone who isn't certified in the work they do.

As for who is liable, I would think the homeowner, as they are paying this person to take on the work and if they make mistakes, it lies with the homeowner. Of course, if a contractor does a horrible job, damages stuff, and all that, you could probably sue them for damages, but you would have to take that on yourself and the state or city could still penalize you if the work done isn't properly permitted.

It sucks that it's something the homeowner has to sort out, but you could still take the contractor to court.
@Jake, this reminds me of our previous discussion about that Atlanta news channel that was warning Georgia homeowners not to rush to hire contractors to make storm damage repairs. Some homeowners were hiring unlicensed contractors and then losing lots of money when those contractors later walked off the job. Homeowners don't always check to make sure the contractor they're hiring is properly licensed and bonded, which can be a major problem from a liability standpoint.

The best thing contractors can do to avoid potential liability issues and legal strife is to make sure they're fully licensed and bonded. For homeowners, the bonding in particular ensures the necessary funds are available to complete their project in the event that the contractor is unable to finish the work for whatever reason.
This! I think it lies with the homeowner to make it right, even if the issues were due to a contractors negligence or failure to properly permit the work. The fault lies with the homeowner because simply put, it's their property, and they're also responsible for vetting the contractor, and making sure they are right for the job.

I always check review sites on contractors. Also, I'd recommend everyone ask for their qualifications before hiring them, along with asking if they are up to date on licenses.

Can never be too safe after all.
 
@Jake, this reminds me of our previous discussion about that Atlanta news channel that was warning Georgia homeowners not to rush to hire contractors to make storm damage repairs. Some homeowners were hiring unlicensed contractors and then losing lots of money when those contractors later walked off the job. Homeowners don't always check to make sure the contractor they're hiring is properly licensed and bonded, which can be a major problem from a liability standpoint.

The best thing contractors can do to avoid potential liability issues and legal strife is to make sure they're fully licensed and bonded. For homeowners, the bonding in particular ensures the necessary funds are available to complete their project in the event that the contractor is unable to finish the work for whatever reason.
That's a good point, I forgot about that post, but it makes sense. You are responsible for the people you hire, so if you happen to hire someone who does bad work, it could come back to haunt you. Finding the right contractor is ideal in making sure the homeowner is also safe from mistakes down the line.

It sucks that it is the homeowners responsibility to make right in this case, but, even if you fall victim to this sort of thing, you have recourse, like suing the contractor who did the bad work. Though not ideal, it's a step homeowners can take if they feel they were wronged by bad contractor work.
 
Liability for building code violations and safety issues typically falls on the builder, contractor, or developer responsible for the construction. Homeowners may also bear some responsibility, especially if they were aware of the violations but failed to address them. That's why it is very important to select trustworthy professionals and ensure compliance with regulations.
 
Aren't homeowners typically overall responsible though?
 
Aren't homeowners typically overall responsible though?

Yep, and it's the same in the environmental permitting world (and I'm sure all permitting for that matter). Permits are legal documents that authorize the project proponent (here, homeowner) to carry out some regulated activity subject to terms and conditions. Legally, permits only apply to two parties: the homeowner and the government. My understanding is that homeowners sign a contract with a contractor, which is a third-party agreement between those two entities that, unlike the permit, doesn't involve the government. Like we talked about above, it's then up to the homeowner to do their due diligence to ensure their contractor is licensed and bonded.

The only way I can think of to make contractors legally responsible in the eyes of the government would be to make them co-permittees alongside the project proponent. I wonder whether anyone has ever issued a permit like that? If we did, I imagine we'd have to divide up permit conditions to make clear that some apply only to the contractor, while others (e.g., for long-term maintenance) apply only to the homeowner/project proponent.

There are probably good reasons why we never include contractors as co-permittees (I'm sure contractors would want to avoid that at all costs), but I'm not 100% clear on this. It seems like situations could arise where we might actually want to be able to use the legal hook that a permit provides in order to compel action from a disreputable contractor. Any thoughts, @Emily C?
 
The property owner is generally liable for the permits - even if a contractor submits the permit, most muni's will require that either the contractor have a POA from the landowner or the property owner signs the permit application. In this way, they cannot claim they "didn't know". Very much the same way it works for your federal income tax filings - a CPA prepares the tax return, you review and sign and are on the hook for the claims made within the document.

Basically the muni want you on the hook for all/any permits.

One can usually attain a permit after the fact such in the example of a shed being too large or if its placed inside the rear/side yard setbacks. Sometimes the property owner will need to attend a "board of adjustment hearing" to get a variance or find out what the muni requires in order to get a variance.

Zoning violations related to residential/industrial/commercial property land development can be far more harsh. For anyone wanting to research just how harsh, one could google the New Castle County Delaware "renaissance inn" Hotel zoning violations off I95 whereby the developer had the architect add an entire floor to the hotel exceeding the max allowed sq footage for the commercial property and the violations was discovered by the county during issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy...Of course the developer blamed the architect and engineer; both had saved correspondence to the contrary and ultimately the site engineer was responsible for the "footprint" of the building, but had confirmed immediately prior to both final recordation AND prior to construction, with architect that the footprint was correct final footprint.

Regardless - the building sat vacant for over a decade if memory serves...
 
The property owner is generally liable for the permits - even if a contractor submits the permit, most muni's will require that either the contractor have a POA from the landowner or the property owner signs the permit application. In this way, they cannot claim they "didn't know". Very much the same way it works for your federal income tax filings - a CPA prepares the tax return, you review and sign and are on the hook for the claims made within the document.

Basically the muni want you on the hook for all/any permits.

One can usually attain a permit after the fact such in the example of a shed being too large or if its placed inside the rear/side yard setbacks. Sometimes the property owner will need to attend a "board of adjustment hearing" to get a variance or find out what the muni requires in order to get a variance.

Zoning violations related to residential/industrial/commercial property land development can be far more harsh. For anyone wanting to research just how harsh, one could google the New Castle County Delaware "renaissance inn" Hotel zoning violations off I95 whereby the developer had the architect add an entire floor to the hotel exceeding the max allowed sq footage for the commercial property and the violations was discovered by the county during issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy...Of course the developer blamed the architect and engineer; both had saved correspondence to the contrary and ultimately the site engineer was responsible for the "footprint" of the building, but had confirmed immediately prior to both final recordation AND prior to construction, with architect that the footprint was correct final footprint.

Regardless - the building sat vacant for over a decade if memory serves...
I knew someone who put an addition on their home, a bedroom I believe it was, and their contractor never obtained the required permits. Supposedly what happened was, the homeowner assumed the contractor would have the credentials to obtain permits himself and let him start work whenever he filed. The contractor told him he took care of all of it, and began the work. Well, the contractor happened to not even be licensed, and ended up doing really shoddy work on the property. The county found out about it and had all work stopped and the contractor just up and left. I believe the homeowner tried to file a permit after the fact, but they wouldn't let him for the work finished, and mentioned that the work had to be redone by a licensed contractor and permits filed of course.

The homeowner was stuck with the problem because he didn't verify who it was he hired to do the job, and it costed him. He is someone who is very trusting of people, and this contractor just sold him big time on what his abilities were. He eventually got the addition done by a licensed contractor and all is good now, but he lost a lot of money. If I hire a contractor, I need to know he's a legit one with certification, a license, or whatever else they need.

That's horrible about the Renaissance Inn Hotel, reminds me a lot of this my friends past situation. It's why it's important to get the right people to do the job and the right permits. Otherwise you might have a building on your hands you can't use until it's up to code.
 
I knew someone who put an addition on their home, a bedroom I believe it was, and their contractor never obtained the required permits. Supposedly what happened was, the homeowner assumed the contractor would have the credentials to obtain permits himself and let him start work whenever he filed. The contractor told him he took care of all of it, and began the work. Well, the contractor happened to not even be licensed, and ended up doing really shoddy work on the property. The county found out about it and had all work stopped and the contractor just up and left. I believe the homeowner tried to file a permit after the fact, but they wouldn't let him for the work finished, and mentioned that the work had to be redone by a licensed contractor and permits filed of course.

The homeowner was stuck with the problem because he didn't verify who it was he hired to do the job, and it costed him. He is someone who is very trusting of people, and this contractor just sold him big time on what his abilities were. He eventually got the addition done by a licensed contractor and all is good now, but he lost a lot of money. If I hire a contractor, I need to know he's a legit one with certification, a license, or whatever else they need.

That's horrible about the Renaissance Inn Hotel, reminds me a lot of this my friends past situation. It's why it's important to get the right people to do the job and the right permits. Otherwise you might have a building on your hands you can't use until it's up to code.
Yep certainly a possibility. However, while I have seen the same thing, I have also seen similar situations as you point out where an engineer, and land use attorney together attend the board of adjustment and get a more reasonable decision. That said, if the work simply did not comply with any required code then there is no choice but to remove and repeat the work. Depending on the State; most zoning and landuse requirements limit their ability to cause "undo hardship" to a landowner and thus legally can be forced to allow certain types of completed work to remain. However, it must be shown to be code compliant or it cannot be insured after completion (which requires certification of compliance with local codes and standards).

All of that said, I think the renaissance hotel tried that route in New Castle County DE and lost because (if I call recall) it appeared clear to the court that there was an intent by the developer to deceive the county.

Ultimately - for any major expense it is best to discuss directly with the muni body the plan and find out what is required. The concept of "seek forgiveness not approval" can be very expensive!
 

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