My Realtor told me there is unpermitted work on the property I am buying. Should I be concerned?
Absolutely. The permitting process by Cities and Counties are there for consumer protection. The local municipal building inspectors perform ongoing inspections as the work is progressing. They inspect the substructure, electrical wiring, plumbing, heating, insulation as well as the structure prior to completion.
The permit process also ensures that the building project meets all Planning Ordinances such as height requirements, setbacks, lot coverage, and use.
Performing an inspection of a project after completion will not take the place of ongoing inspections and code complliance. A real estate property inspector cannot make a determination of proper building practice and code compliance after the project has been completed.
Am I liable for any unpermitted work after I buy the property? After all, I didn't do any of the unpermitted work.
Yes, you may be responsible. The liability stays with the property. When buying a property that has unpermitted work or structures, you could be assuming all responsibility for the unpermitted project. The Planning and Building Departments may have the authority to force correction of the unpermitted structure, which can entail anything from bringing the structure up to code; to demolition of the entire unpermitted structure, as well as fines and penalties.
It is highly recommended prior to purchasing any property with unpermitted work or buildings, to contact the permitting authorities to determine the extent of your liability.