Getting That Building Permit Is Not So Easy Anymore-Codes And Covenants Can Change Your Plans

You've acquired that fixer-upper, now it's time to fix it up. A porch here, a utility room there, maybe even a home business office in the garage where you can show your product to clients.

You're staking out your addition, and next thing you know there's a person at your door with a clipboard, looking for a building permit, warning you of a covenant violation or saying you can't open a business in this neighborhood. Who knew? Well, now you do.

Covenants & Other Deed Restrictions

You should have noticed if you purchased the property, but maybe not. If it was inherited, you may not have familiarized yourself with all the small print.

Some neighborhoods have organizations to mutually maintain common areas and improvements. They usually have dues, which you'd know about. But you may not be so aware of covenants, a list of dos and don'ts about how you maintain your personal property.

Covenants can be anything that the originators want; from municipal-code-like rules about lot line setbacks, number of structures on a site, or number of pets in a household. Other typical covenants restrict appearance choices, e.g. color of exterior finishes or style of mailbox. But it can be more than curb appeal. An increasing number of natural areas have deed restrictions limiting development. Some antiquated covenants restricted residents according to skin color or nationality. These are largely defunct, subject to court decisions about discrimination.

And therein lies the rub with covenants. Violations can go to court if someone decides to file a lawsuit. Neighborhood associations ebb and flow in how picky their members are over your decisions. Typically, all it takes is one disgruntled member to cause you trouble, as U.S. courts have found any individual signer can challenge any violation, without the agreement of the other signers. So read, talk with neighbors and educate yourself in any way possible if you find restrictions on your deed.

Building Codes

Small town and rural building inspectors used to be local government employees, but now, to reduce expenses and taxes, communities are out-sourcing these services. Often the inspectors are with a company located in a larger city. They are harder to reach, only come around once a week or so, and they enforce the rules.

Home businesses are one example of how this change may affect you. As soon as you invite the public, your responsibilities expand. You must comply with commercial building codes. So now you need stamped and signed plans by a licensed architect or engineer.

In return, these professionals should provide zoning and building code review, which provides you with facts like how far from the lot line and how tall you may build. Inspectors want structural calculations to prove the planned construction will hold up to whatever your locale may throw at it.

Off-street parking, exit signage, fire control measures, wheelchair accessibility, ventilation and restroom requirements, noise and light ordinances and other issues may be a bigger concern than you realize.

You would be wise to learn more about zoning and building codes before investing in a property.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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