June 18, 2008

Permit Oversight Riles Homeowners

By Dana M. Nichols, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

Jun. 18--SAN ANDREAS -- Before you buy that rustic cabin or small-town retreat in Calaveras County, you might want to check to see if it passed final inspection.

The county's top building official Tuesday estimated that a third of the homes that obtained building permits in Calaveras County did not pass a final inspection.

The problem, which stretches back decades, came to light in recent months as homeowners have come to county offices for permits to remodel and discovered they must pass a final inspection before they can get another construction permit.

Vic Lyons wanted a permit to replace a deck on a rental home he owns on North Algiers Street not far from the center of Murphys. Now the deck project is on hold while Lyons decides if he is willing to pay the $89 fee for a final inspection on the 36-year-old home.

"It just doesn't seem right," Lyons said. "Why would they now suddenly go back to 1972 and try to enforce it?"

Lyons notes that title companies and banks apparently do not care whether a home has passed final inspection, as he had no problem lining up financing and processing the transaction when he bought the home from the previous owner in the 1980s.

Lyons complained to Tom Tryon, his representative on the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.

Tryon, in turn, asked Community Development Director Stephanie Moreno for an explanation at Tuesday's board meeting. Tryon said he doubts whether county records even exist that could show whether homes were built with permits.

But Moreno said staff research of building permits drawn over the past half-century or so shows that roughly a third never passed a final inspection. And builders admit privately what Moreno claims publicly -- that it was widely known for years that Calaveras County simply did not enforce the requirement that a building pass its final inspection before people were allowed to move in.

"There are health and safety issues for many of these places that have not had final inspections," Moreno said.

To pass a final inspection, homes have to meet a list of basic requirements, including installation of a kitchen sink, having at least one functioning toilet, having complete and covered electrical wiring, and meeting basic fire safety standards, including address numbers visible to arriving emergency crews.

Tryon, the board's longest-serving member, having held his office since 1984, said he wants to have a public discussion with Moreno about how it is possible that the county could have so many houses that never obtained occupancy permits. He also suggested county government should provide free final inspections for homes built decades ago.

Moreno agreed to bring the board a report on the magnitude of the problem, probably in July.

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 754-9534 or [email protected]


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