Buying A Rental? Check Permits First

by Janet Portman, Inman News

Money down the drainQ: I am a new rental property owner and was recently cited for a code violation. Apparently, a previous owner did some work on the property following a fire, for which he obtained the correct permits. But he never scheduled the final inspection. Like us, the seller from whom we bought the property had no knowledge of the problem. Are we responsible for the fine and for doing any work required to pass inspection? —Nel N.

A: I’m afraid you’ll have to comply with the city’s demand that you schedule an inspection and do whatever is needed to satisfy their standards. The city is not going to give your property a pass just because you didn’t know that a prior owner hadn’t followed the right procedures. From the city’s perspective, the permitting process insures structurally safe buildings, and when they discover that a building hasn’t been properly built or inspected, they’re concerned with getting the problem fixed, not with who was originally responsible for creating it.

You may have a legal claim against your seller for the fine or any other expenses you have to pay in order to pass the inspection and bring the property up to code. Your seller was supposed to tell you, in the “disclosures” portion of the contract, about any problems of which he was aware. He can’t be faulted for not telling you what he didn’t know, however. Unless you can point to some representation by the seller that all previous work was done according to the permit process, you’ll have a hard time pinning the cost of compliance on the seller. Before buying the property, you could have checked with the permitting office yourself, a job that careful brokers advise their buyers to do.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected].

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Copyright 2008 Janet Portman

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