Code violations can vary. On the spectrum from quick fix to absolute deal breaker, a broken smoke alarm is cheap and easy, but an un-permitted swimming pool will cost tens of thousands of dollars. In this article, we’ll tell you the most common code violations.
1) Working without a permit
This one is quite common. Many DIY homeowners don’t realize that you need a permit to do most repairs around the house. Technically, you can’t even change a toilet without obtaining a permit first, but it happens all the time.
As a real estate agent, I’ve seen the most beautiful homes fall out of escrow because the homeowner added something major to the house without a permit and the home buyer doesn’t want to spend the money to bring the house up to code. I once saw a cash buyer spend tens of thousands of dollars to remove a lien on their newly purchased home, because the swimming pool was built without permission.
To avoid the issue of selling a home with code violations, always check with the city before you make changes to your home. This will ensure that your improvements are safe and reliable, energy efficient, and marketable when you sell the home.
2 ) Not testing for old materials, like asbestos and lead
Asbestos and lead are highly regulated and have ultra strict removal policies. This is because, during a remodel project, these materials are disturbed, making them harmful to the workers, and to the inhabitants. Even the landfill employees are at risk if these materials are not disposed of properly.
Both of these materials have been known to cause serious harm or death to people who’ve been exposed to them. Asbestos, a known carcinogenic, can be found in some common places like popcorn ceilings, vinyl tile, drywall compounds, duct installations, and cement shingle siding. As a rule of thumb, anything that was built prior to 1970 must be checked for asbestos and anything built prior to 1978 must be checked for lead. If either material is found, a special crew must be called out to handle the removal.
3) Improperly fastening deck or balcony ledgers to the house
Have you ever seen a video of a balcony falling? Nothing is scarier, especially for the people on the balcony during the fall. If a deck or balcony is secured using improper flashing, the flashing can rot, and the deck will fail. Always use a professional contractor to secure ledgers to the house and make sure that he or she acquires permits first.
4) Venting a bath fan into an attic
When you vent a bathroom, it will often go through ducking in the attic, but it can’t stop there. It must be ducted all the way out of the house. Otherwise, you will be blowing steamy air into the attic, which can cause mold, mildew, and rot. Avoid this by using a 4 inch diameter vent pipe to the fan and make sure that it goes beyond the attic, outside of the house.
5) Botched electrical work
Because it’s a fire hazard, botched electrical work is life threatening. The most common offenders are wrong sized circuits, spliced wires without a junction box, and missing GFCI’s. A GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupter, must be present wherever water could be present. This means that kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and garage outlets must have GFCI’s installed. Due to the inherent risk involved, avoid doing any electrical work yourself, always hire a professional.
6) Adding a bedroom without an egress window
An egress is a way to escape and it’s essential in the event of an emergency. Without it, a person who sleeping in the room may be trapped in the event of a fire, earthquake, or other disaster. Homeowners often get into trouble when they add on a bedroom, improve a basement, or convert a garage without installing an egress window — And the egress window must be large enough for a person to fit through in case of an emergency.
Any “sleeping room” must contain an egress window, otherwise it doesn’t count as a bedroom. This may not be a problem when you’re living in the house, but it will definitely be a problem when you attempt to sell it. Your 5 bedroom house will only be marketable as a 4 bedroom if the 5th bedroom was improperly built.
7) Failing to follow fence height requirements
In order to seek more privacy, homeowners will build fences, but if they aren’t up to code, they’re too tall. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a common complaint amongst neighbors, and it’s a definite squabble starter. If a city official sees your fence, they may order you to tear it down, fine you, or slap a lien on your property. This will make selling your home difficult. To avoid this scenario, make sure that you hire a reputable fencing company, and obtain permission from the city (and probably your neighbors).
8) Improper measuring of staircase handrails
Lots of injuries occur when people fall down the stairs. To prevent this, make sure that your handrails are up to code. Handrails must be graspable, so that a person can hold on to avoid a fall. They must also be the right height, so the person doesn’t have bend down or reach up in order to hold it. It must also be long enough that it reaches the entire length of the stairway. Hire a stair company that understands the building codes and is familiar with these permits.
9) Broken or missing smoke detectors and/or CO2 detectors
Most codes require that smoke detectors be installed in all sleeping rooms, adjacent hallways of sleeping rooms, and at the top of stairwells. The smoke detectors need to be installed properly, and this is usually in the way that smoke travels. For instance, if you have a smoke detector installed on the side of the wall, but smoke usually rises and travels along the ceiling, your smoke detector may miss it. Likewise, it’s best for CO2 detectors to be installed on every floor, and near the garage — a common source of C02. Consult a local contractor and make sure that your home’s smoke alarms are up to code. It’s not worth putting your whole family in danger and you can’t sell the home until the detectors are in order.