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How Home Sellers Can Protect Themselves From Liability For Unpermitted Improvements

There have been a lot of improvements made to real estate in Pensacola. With so many homes being damaged by hurricane Ivan in 2004, most homes had some type of repair done. Many home owners took this as an opportunity to upgrade their homes. But what about permitting these upgrades? When selling real estate, permits for repairs and improvements can become an issue.

Installing WindowMany improvements made to a home require permits. For example, installation of new windows, new Heating/AC systems, a new roof or  electrical work will require a permit.  However, often times home owners would like to save a little money and do the work themselves or with some friends. It is, after all, much cheaper to buy a few cases of beer and get your buddies over for a weekend re-roofing party, rather than hire a licensed roofing contractor. How many unlicensed “weekend home improvement experts” do you know?

The problem with unpermitted work comes when it is time to sell the home. According to the most current real estate contracts, the home sellers should be able to back up any work done that requires a permit with proof that the work was permitted and approved by a licensed county/city inspector.  It is very important to note that these improvements may have been done PRIOR to this seller’s ownership of the property, but the current owner is held responsible for insuring that all improvements to the property were properly permitted.

Now that doesn’t really seem fair, but that is the reality of it.

So how does a home owner handle selling a home on which unpermitted work has been done? Contact an attorney, and provide FULL DISCLOSURE!!!

This means full disclosure in writing in the real estate disclosure forms or the real estate contract. Do not use any language that suggests or implies that the work was done correctly, or “according to building codes”.  Such statements or implications can get sellers into future legal dilemmas. Real Estate Home Improvement

When disclosing that work was done without permits, sellers should state that “no guaranty is made regarding compliance with building codes.” Sellers should also recommend that buyers hire a qualified home inspector to evaluate the condition of the improvements, as well as the rest of the property. With that kind of disclosure, sellers should be reasonably safe from complaints after the home is sold. Of course, in this litigious society, there are no guarantees.

I am not an attorney, so the best advice I can give in this situation is to contact an attorney, and take the attorney’s advice, which will likely be to provide full disclosure as described in this article.  There have been cases of sellers being sued for damages from unpermitted work years after the sale of a home. Example: Faulty unpermitted electrical work causes fire resulting in the death of a resident. Huge lawsuit! Don’t let this happen to you.


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