Unpermitted conversion warrants consideration

Posted6/13/2021 6:00 AM

Q: I've been renting a home for four years and would like to buy it from the landlords. The building was originally a garage and was converted to a dwelling before permits were required. Recently, the owners added a foundation to an unpermitted addition and did not obtain a permit for the work. I expressed concern, but the work just proceeded. Should I go ahead with the purchase and deal with the county if problems arise later, or is that too risky?

A: Owning an unpermitted dwelling may or may not lead to future problems. However, unforeseen issues could possibly arise at any time.


For example, the county building department could disallow the conversion to a dwelling and require restoration of the original garage. This is not a likely outcome because permits were not required at the time of the conversion, but it is still a possibility to be considered. Problems of this kind have occurred in some areas, particularly where the work pertaining to the conversion was found to be substandard, unsafe or in violation of zoning requirements.

As for the recent foundation upgrade, that work was subject to current permit requirements, and this could result in legal problems with the local building department. As a condition of the sale, you can request that the seller apply for an as-built permit to have the foundation work inspected and approved.

Another potential outcome, when you eventually sell the property, is that a home inspector for a future buyer could find a list of major defects. This possibility underscores the need for a detailed home inspection now rather than later. If you proceed with the transaction, find the most experienced home inspector available and have the building thoroughly nitpicked.

Q: The dryer exhaust in my son's home is vented through a metal duct that is under the concrete slab floor. This appears to be a substandard installation. Your suggestions for possible improvements would be appreciated.

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A: Underground installation of a dryer vent is unwise because the duct is subject to rust damage from continuous contact with ground moisture. Additionally, coldness of the soil can cause moisture condensation within the duct, resulting in the accumulation of lint, and lint congestion can cause the dryer to overheat.

If a standard aboveground pathway to the exterior of the home can be found, that would provide a preferable means of venting the dryer. If not, it would be wise to have a professional video inspection of the existing duct to determine whether adverse symptoms have actually occurred. Some plumbing contractors perform video inspections of drain piping. They could probably do the same with a dryer vent duct. That would enable you to determine whether there is an actual problem or merely a theoretical one. If the duct is intact, you might simply need to have it cleaned. If it is damaged, the plumber may be able to determine an alternate route for the vent.

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

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