WHO’S AFRAID OF A BUILDING PERMIT?
Trivia question -- When it’s time to finish the basement, or build that back deck or shed, should you bother going to the trouble and expense of getting a building permit?
A) No, because those tax assessment people will find out and raise my taxes.
B) No, the contractor said we didn’t need one.
C) No, all we’re doing is putting up a new wall downstairs for an extra bedroom.
D) Well, I’m not sure, maybe I should call the building department.
PERMITS ARE INSURANCE
If you choose D, you’re on your way to getting one of the best
and cheapest forms of insurance available to property owners. It keeps contractors honest, your family or tenants safe, and can improve the resale value of your home.
Choosing D can potentially save so much grief and expense, that building inspectors with the City of Kingston attach great importance to every public inquiry. An inspector is always in the office during business hours to answer questions. Helping people do it right and avoid costly mistakes is the best part of their job. The alternative is not so enjoyable, such as discovering a brand-new deck made with 2x6 instead of 2x8 joists.
“It’s unfortunate for us because we have to make them tear it all out, take out all that good wood,” says Del Stowe, the city’s supervisor of building permits.
“So we try to make the whole process as easy as possible - cut-and-paste plans, help with drawings - it’s customer service, customer service. We’re all trained that way.”
But it can get much worse than tearing out a deck.
Stowe’s worst nightmare is waking up to news reports of a fatal fire in an illegal apartment somewhere in Kingston.
“I just dread the day that happens,” he says, “I would feel responsible.”
Between the sometimes dense and technical lines of the Ontario Building Code lie the hard lessons learned over many decades and many avoidable deaths and injuries. It is the science of sound structures and healthy living imposed on the moral precept that society is stronger when every person enjoys decent and safe living conditions.
“Our main objective is the protection of life and the protection of property,” said senior inspector Ryan Arcand.
“We’re not here to pick on homeowners, and take away their rights. We get cast in that negative light sometimes, but we couldn’t be more the opposite.”
Often an inspector is called when a homeowner engages a contractor without a permit, then encounters problems and doesn’t want to pay them, Arcand said.
“So they call us and rat themselves out,” he said.
GOOD CONTRACTORS LIKE PERMITS
But while the inspectors are tolerant of misinformed homeowners making mistakes, and will work with them to rectify problems, they have little patience for shifty contractors and greedy landlords trying to fly under the radar. Fines can run into the thousands of dollars.
“Good contractors love permits, because it levels the playing field,” says Stowe. “Other people under-bid them because they cut corners and won’t build it to code.”
If a contractor says he can finish your basement without a permit, show him the door. Any construction involving structural framing and installing insulation requires a permit.
One of the most common mistakes of do-it-yourselfers and part-time handymen when finishing a basement, for example, is slapping fibre insulation up against porous exterior concrete walls. The resulting condensation absorbed by the insulation is one of the main reasons for damp, mouldy basements.
Homeowners and real estate professionals must also be careful, when representing a home as having, for example, three plus one bedrooms. The basement room is not permitted to be a bedroom unless the basement is at least fifty per cent above grade, and the bedroom has an operable window of a certain size and height to allow people to escape.
Another serious mistake involves walling off space around furnaces, some of which depend on surrounding air currents to function properly and safely.
Maybe you’re thinking about undertaking a basement renovation without permits, in order to keep your property taxes down?
Think about it in terms of the insurance and property value which that relatively modest tax increase buys you. No paying the price of poor workmanship down the road. And your home is more attractive to buyers when you have the documents showing improvements were done properly.
“It doesn’t cost anything to call us but it costs a lot more if someone gets caught or someone gets hurt,” says Arcand.
For further information, contact the City of Kingston Building Department, at 546-4291 or access more information online at cityofkingston.ca.