Not Having the Required Permits
Homeowners in different towns, counties and municipalities have to obtain building permits before carrying out any construction or renovation work. The permits ensure that your construction meets the building codes satisfying the structural standards and minimum safety. You may need several permits for a construction work including permits for building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.
Your building can become illegal if you undertake any construction or work without getting the required permit or permits. Some homeowners hire cheap contractors who don't apply for permits for your construction. Sometimes they apply for permits, but don't complete the process- making your building or construction illegal.
Some permits are also issued only to licensed and bonded contractors. For example, electrical, mechanical and plumbing permits are only issued to certified contractors. So if you hire unlicensed contractors, you are putting yourself in risks of illegal construction.
You will also require a permit for the use of certain equipment. For example, the Fire Department may pull you up if you don't have the required equipment use permit for operating the HVAC system.
Violating Applicable Codes or Regulations
Getting permits for your project doesn't necessarily mean that your building or construction will be legal. The duty of applying the codes to the construction ultimately rests on the contractor or architects undertaking the project.
Permits are issued based on the original plan where your designer might have made room for the codes. But they have to be implemented during construction; otherwise, you will be dealing with an illegal building.
For instance, we discovered a strong violation while inspecting a property on behalf of a client. The moment we entered the building, we noticed a strong smell of gas. We soon discovered that the earlier contractor had tapped the flipper illegally into the gas meter, causing it to leak. It was a disaster waiting to happen, which could have been avoided if the contractor stuck to the codes.
Your construction needs to meet a range of codes applicable to building, energy, plumbing and mechanical systems. If your construction fails to meet even a single code, your building can become illegal.
Illegal Conversion and Construction
Your building can be deemed illegal if you undertake any work or conversion without prior approval from the department. An illegal conversion is any alteration or modification of a current property to establish an additional housing unit without the approval of the DOB.
Many homeowners in cities like New York go for illegal conversions due to a housing shortage. They may also undertake illegal conversions to rent out the space to other people looking for affordable housing.
Examples of illegal conversions include creating unapproved rooms called Single Room Occupancies (SROs). Bedrooms and living units located in cellars, attics or basements also qualify as illegal conversion. Another form of the violation includes splitting existing apartments or homes into multiple bedrooms or living spaces by erecting walls.
Illegal conversions violate building and fire codes and make room for potentially unsafe living conditions. They may also result in overcrowding and turn accidents like fire into fatal situations by preventing escape routes.
Illegal conversions come with a high penalty of $15,000 per violation in cities like New York. You may also be slapped with an Environmental Control Board (ECB) violation, with penalties up to $25,000 per violation.
Renovations and repair work without prior approval are also deemed illegal. Many homeowners try to save money by going for DIY repairs or renovation which violate the applicable codes.
For example, we found a potential violation in one of the homes we were inspecting on behalf of our client. We saw that the HVAC system did not have a county inspector approval sticker. Upon further investigation, we found that it has been installed by an acquaintance of the owner without following the required procedures.