Construction permits are issued by municipalities for construction activities on homes within their jurisdiction. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) oversees Uniform Construction Code compliance and enforcement and advises municipal officials, as needed. In the DCA’s bulletin 06-1, the DCA provides guidance for inspection of existing work done without proper permits.
Where a homeowner discovered work done by a prior owner without permits, the DCA advises municipal officials to perform a Certificate of Continued Occupancy (CCO) inspection, specifically including a report describing the work done without a permit. Corrective work may be required.
Where the current owner of a residence has performed work without a permit, the construction official has discretion to either offer the CCO inspection or to issue a violation and, if necessary, require corrective work.
In either circumstance, if the construction official has probable cause to believe a life-safety violation exists, the official may require demolition as necessary to properly inspect the work. Otherwise, a CCO inspection is limited to only the visible portions of the home.
Where a contractor was hired and failed to obtain permits, the DCA advises construction officials to issue notices and implement appropriate enforcement actions. Pursuant to another DCA bulletin and Court ruling, municipalities may issue violations against a builder, despite the issuance of a CCO, for UCC violations discovered after residents take occupancy.
Despite the CCO remedy, homeowners should remain cautious about performing work without permits and/or purchasing property where construction activities occurred without a proper permit. Municipalities may issue a Notice and Order of Penalty for work done without permits, and assess penalties of up to $2,000 per day for violations that remain outstanding after the municipality’s deadline for correction. Numerous legal issues can arise from the lack of permits, including zoning violations which require that the homeowner submit a zoning appeal and/or remove a structure. Failure to obtain permits may also cause a property to be undervalued for tax purposes, with possible back-taxes owed. Insurance claims have been denied due to failure to obtain permits. And liability for accidents and injury arising out of unpermitted work is more difficult to defend. It is also more difficult to sell property with work done without proper permits.
Many homeowners are surprised to discover permit issues because they have a certificate of occupancy, a construction records clearance certificate, and/or hired a home inspector. However, municipal inspections and private home purchase inspections do not guarantee that all required permits have been pulled for past work.
NJAC 5:23-2.14 specifies when construction permits are required. Review of local code is also recommended. Do not confuse building permits with zoning approvals. These two remain separate: zoning approvals do not authorize construction, and building permits do not authorize specific uses and siting of construction.
Once permits are obtained, I highly recommend that every property owner archive every building and zoning permit, permit revision, plan or drawing, inspection, and approval, as well as contractor invoices. Municipalities should not be relied upon to maintain complete archives of all documents ever associated with construction at a property. If a homeowner is unable to provide copies of proper permits, work may need to be re-inspected, subject to any changes in building and zoning requirements.