If you are in the market to buy a foreclosed home or a short sale, take some time to confirm the building permit records on the property before you buy.
A building permit record search is a reliable way to determine whether or not your house complies with local building code or if any additional square footage has been legally constructed.
Issues with foreclosed properties from illegal additions to code violations become the responsibility of the new owner. Many properties, especially foreclosures, can have illegal additions, sub-standard work or code violations and the new owner can be made responsible for correcting the problem.. IECC
Homeowners seeking to buy can either ask the seller or the seller’s realtor to research the property and find out if there are building permits and certificates of occupancy issued on any new additions. Or if you are curious, you can contact your local Building Department and ask if they can make copies for you.
Be aware, many building departments are short staffed due to the recent economic downturn and they may ask you to come down and research the property yourself.
If you are the seller, in most states, you must disclose all work that was completed without a permit. Failure to do so could run the risk of ruining your sale. The seller may want to provide the buyer with copies of permits confirming that the square footage on the property matches all existing permits on the property.
For example, if the property built in 1999 has two bedrooms and a bath and the seller added a new bedroom and bathroom, the buyer should check to see that the original permits and certificate of occupancy show the original square footage and that the permits show the new, correct additional square footage.
The process differs from City to City but usually the process goes something like this. You would visit the counter of your local building department and ask to see the records on a property. They usually have you fill out a piece of paper listing the property address, turn it in and wait for them to call you.
Once they call you up to the counter, tell them what you are looking for a Certificate of Occupancy, a history of Building permits or that you are looking to confirm the existing square footage on a house. They’ll go and try to find it for you. When they come back with your results, make sure that they take the time to examine the documents and tell you what they are giving you before you go and pay for the copies. The whole process can take between 1-2 hours or more. Sometimes they have you come back the next day.
In most cities and counties, the Building Department will keep copies of all permits on file. Many of them are on old microfiche, but recently many building departments have been converting this microfiche to online permit images. Check your city or county website to see if they have copies of permit records online before you make a trip.