Can we do this without a building permit?

This is always one of the questions that I get when I first meet some new clients. As one of a relatively small number of companies in the project management and construction field that “has all of the boxes checked” in terms of being legal and above board, Storey’s Gate nonetheless is almost always asked to work outside of the rules as they exist today. My mission with this is to hopefully convince more people that it is worth the expense and hassle to get a building permit in the long run.

There are thirteen municipalities in the Capital Region (Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Langford, etc.) and any reputable firm has an intermunicipal business license.  So, while one license makes me able to work legally anywhere in the region, the rules and procedures are different, sometimes very different, between the thirteen governments.  Some municipalities have a goal of issuing building permits quickly (often less than two weeks for minor projects) while others can take months.

It is the different rules and procedures between the municipalities that frustrate and often frighten homeowners.  They find out that they need a permit to repair a set of stairs that is one hundred years old, and that they need to bring it up to current codes.  A repair has turned into a complete rebuild.  The response is often to either drop the project or get the repair done without a permit.  This often seems innocent enough, after all, a set of stairs is pretty minor, right?

The question becomes at what point do you need a permit?  After all, they think, my neighbors and I get along, nobody is going to turn me in.  I didn’t say anything when my neighbor renovated his bathroom last summer, so I should be fine.  A major project will probably get noticed by “the City” and I will “deal with it then”, but this one is small, so, …you get the point.

This is why Storey’s Gate does project management and construction, they are two very different activities.  I am currently working on behalf of some clients who wish to build a garden suite (carriage house) in the backyard of their house in Fairfield.  I am handling the entire process with the City of Victoria, leading up to and including getting the building permit.  It requires a rezoning, public hearings at City Hall, the whole enchilada.  Why would they go through all the headaches?

Well, to be a bit cheeky, somebody is going to notice a garage sized building going up in a neighborhood like Fairfield.  More pointedly, it will be a legal and inspected structure whose value will be included in the sales price of the property when it is eventually sold.  And they are all eventually sold.  It could be used as a legal suite for a child, Granny, or a tenant not connected to the family.  The neighbors know that parking, setbacks, etc. all conform to the rules in place at the time of the building permit being issued.

So what?  Most people “know” that illegal renovations get you the same sales price as legal ones, right?  Only a schmuck would go through City Hall.  Right?

Let me tell you a story about a couple that I did a little work for a while back.  They had bought the house less than a year before and called me because they wanted to add four feet to their dining room for Christmas dinner (think young grandchildren).  They had no issue with getting a building permit, so off I went to City Hall.  Guess what?  Turns out that the house had no fewer than three additions to it that were not done with permits by previous owners.  They had no idea and were not informed when they bought the place.  Outcome?  No work done and crowded grandchildren because they were worried they would have to demolish parts of their house to meet current codes.

But that is not all.  The other shoe may drop when they go to sell (and they always sell).  What if the sales and purchase team(s) actually know their craft?  What if the new owners want the purchase price adjusted to reflect all that unapproved work?  Then what?

Can we do this without a building permit?  Probably. But it will end up costing somebody sooner or later.  Why not do it right the first time?