One of the few places where contractors are held accountable is through the permit process at municipal hall.

One of the few places where contractors are held accountable is through the permit process at municipal hall.

Building permits ensure your safety

Check with municipal hall in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows before a home renovation

  • Sep. 21, 2012 4:00 p.m.

Are you are thinking of hiring a contractor to remodel the kitchen or add some funky new lighting to brighten up your life?

Or maybe you are hunting for a home and wondering just who did the wiring in your new place or how safe that deck might be?

Then before you sign on the dotted line head to municipal hall, warns Liz Holitzki, director of licenses, permits and bylaws for Maple Ridge.

“It should be the very first step,” she says. “It’ll save you a lot of time and headache.” Holitzki says.

Especially if you are thinking of purchasing a home in which there’s any chance changes have been made to the structure. One of the few places where contractors are held accountable is through the permit process at municipal hall, she adds.

She urges home buyers to make sure there aren’t any surprise renovations and they won’t be on the hook for someone else’s negligence. You just need a signed letter, saying the owner allows you to check out the permit and inspection history of the house.

“Eventually, it will become your problem,” she says, whether you did the work on your home or inherited it from a previous owner. “There is no way around it.”

Holitzki is particularly concerned about those who purchase a former marijuana grow-op house. The permit department can tell you if the house was ever used as a grow-op, even if remediation work has been done.

“People should know especially if they have kids,” she says. “It’s too bad, but it’s really buyer beware out there.”

She’s aware there is sometimes a tendency to avoid that trip to the planning department counter.

“We know it’s an issue,” she says of people doing renovations without permits. “We have our inspectors keeping their eyes open and we get more of our tips online now,” from neighbours who can now look to see if permits have been sought.

Permits do cost money. The tally can add up to hundreds of dollars and you need one for almost every renovation you might undertake, from building a deck to setting up a sprinkler system. And even if you don’t need a permit, you may need permission because of zoning issues, such as setbacks or floodplains.

But the cost of not adhering to the rules could be much more than getting the permit in the first place.

For example, if you build an illegal secondary suite in a flood plain and the municipality is alerted, you will have to tear out the entire suite out. Or you might have to start ripping apart the walls in that new kitchen to ensure the work is up to code.

That might sound harsh, but Holitzki says the rules are there for a reason: safety.

Permits are linked to the inspection services at municipal hall and contractors will be held accountable for their work under the system.

Minimum standards exist in the B.C. Building Code for construction and renovation and are unwavering.

Good contractors are key to making sure your renovations are up to code. And that means first hiring a contractor who understands and is willing to honour the permit process. She also notes that the permit and inspection process helps protect homeowners from poor workmanship if the contractors they hire do not produce professional work.

“The majority of them are very good,” Holitzki says, noting most of the difficulty comes if they aren’t familiar with the community. “They sometimes work in several communities which all have different regulations,” she says.

Make sure your contractor has a license and electricians and gas fitters should be registered with the BC Safety Authority. The Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association (GVHBA) has a code of ethics called RenoMark (http://www.gvhba.org/renomark) in which participating contractors agree to a number of ethical practices including such things as providing written, warranty-back contracts, carrying liability insurance and adhering to all permits and licenses. The GVHBA also has a list of contractors and tips on what to look for when hiring.

RenoMark isn’t a legally binding promise but it does hold some weight according to GVBA president Peter Simpson, “If contractors don’t play by the rules they risk being turfed from the program until they comply.”

For more on local permit requirements check out Pitt Meadows‘ and Maple Ridge’s municipality websites.