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posted: 8/1/2014 12:01 AM

Badgered by belligerent bureaucrats

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Q. I have owned my home for nearly two years and recently applied for a permit to build a swimming pool. That opened a can of worms with the building department. They discovered my septic system was installed 28 years ago without a permit. To resolve this, I've paid them hundreds of dollars in fees and hired a septic engineer to draw plans for an "as built" permit. Even though I used the engineer the building inspector recommended, they won't move ahead and issue a permit. What can I do to get these unreasonable people off my back?

A. Dealing with intractable bureaucrats can be among the most frustrating experiences in life. The surprising thing about so many of these agency employees is they can be normal and reasonable with their family members and neighbors. Why they become so inflexible when exercising governmental power is a question better suited for psychologists and philosophers. So what can you do about it?

One solution is to obtain advice from an attorney who specializes in administrative law. Sometimes a persuasive legal letter can dislodge a bureaucratic logjam.

Another approach is to make an appointment with a local elected official, such as a city council member or county supervisor. Politicians routinely go to bat for constituents and often have staff members who exclusively handle such issues. When bureaucrats receive a pointed call from someone with political clout, they can suddenly become very cooperative and efficient. I've tried this on four occasions over the years, and it worked three of those times.

Q. We are buying a condominium and are debating whether a home inspection is worth the investment. Here's how we look at it. The seller owns the interior paint and all that is within it. Whatever is outside the interior paint is maintained by the homeowners association, including most of the plumbing, wiring, framing, roofing, and so on. Since we can't negotiate for HOA repairs, why should we hire a home inspector?

A. Your facts are partially correct, which has led you to a faulty conclusion. In most cases, condo owners are only responsible for interior defects, but this includes more than you realize. Consider, for example, sinks, faucets, drains, tubs, showers, toilets, dishwashers, garbage disposals, light fixtures, ceiling fans, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, garage door openers, and so on. All of these are among the many plumbing, electrical and safety components located inside the paint and, therefore, are the presumed responsibility of the condo owner.

Consider also that exterior defects that are discovered by your home inspector can then be brought to the attention of the HOA. Furthermore, repairs that should be made by the HOA are sometimes denied, which can lead to deadlocked disputes. Issues of this kind would be well worth knowing before you become a condo owner.

As part of your due diligence discovery, you should review the maintenance schedule and reserve funds of the HOA to be sure ongoing maintenance is being handled in a responsible manner. Your home inspection report will provide helpful information when conducting this maintenance review.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

© 2014, Action Coast Publishing

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