‘They never go away’ – Austin homes have more than 100K expired permits. Could yours be one?

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Most Austinites probably don’t know if their home has an expired building permit, yet more than 107,000 of those unclosed permits checker the city. Some of the expired permits date back to the late 1970s and each one could cause a delay and additional costs for renovations or repairs.

Many plumbing, electrical and building renovations require permits issued by the city’s Development Services Department. After a permit is issued and work is performed — for example, by a contractor installing a new air conditioner or hot water heater — city inspectors need to check the work, ensure it meets current regulations and finalize and close the permit. When contractors or homeowners fail to schedule that final step, and an inspector doesn’t sign off on the work, the permit expires.

Those expired permits stick with the home, and the city typically won’t issue a new related permit on the home until that expired one is “cured.” Resolving an expired permit can involve fees, time and even additional construction to bring an old project up to current code regulations.

The number of expired residential construction permits has steadily escalated from the late 1990s, when roughly 1,300 permits were expiring each year, to a peak in 2018 when more than 1,500 permits expired.

Expired permits “can cause some heartburn,” said Ken Price, director of heating, ventilating and air conditioning operations at Radiant Plumbing & Air. “If you’re going to be purchasing a home, especially because you’re going to own it after that close, check online or check with the jurisdiction that it is in to see if there are any open permits they can create an issue for you later.”

As of mid-October, Austin had 68,867 residential addresses with 107,775 expired electrical, building, mechanical, plumbing and driveway-sidewalk permits. Some addresses have multiple lapsed permits; a few apartment complexes have more than 100, according to Development Services construction data available online.

Does your Austin home have an expired permit? Check the map below to find out. Click here if you’re having trouble seeing it.

In some cases, if no work was performed under an expired permit or it was issued prior to 2007, it can be voided, according to Development Services. But, if any work was done, the homeowner would need to reactivate the permit and ultimately get an inspection.

“In a case where an expired permit exists and a development project is proposed, Residential Plan Review requires homeowners to either reactivate, roll the expired permit scope of work into the proposed project, or sign an Acknowledgement of Expired Permit before issuing a new building permit on a residential property,” according to Development Services Department spokesperson Robbie Searcy.

‘They never go away’

Mike Marugo, Austin plumbing division manager with ABC Home & Commercial Services, said work done under an expired permit may need to be brought up to the current code, even if it met building regulations when it was done.

It may have been fine 10 years ago, but the code changes, he said.

“Someone has to pay to reactivate that expired permit. Someone may have to pay to perform upgrades to get that expired work up to current code,” Marugo said. “That’s all before I can even start on this job you actually wanted me to do.”

Permits expire for a variety of reasons. Maybe someone gave up on a project halfway through or switched contractors, or perhaps someone did work they shouldn’t have and didn’t want to get caught so they “just forgot to call for their final inspection,” Marugo said.

Marugo said ABC Home & Commercial will make at least three attempts to coordinate an inspection at a time convenient for the homeowner. Sometimes a homeowner may decide they don’t want an inspector at the house, or they are too busy. Unless an extension is filed, the permit expires after six months, he said.

“Those things just sit there and sit there and sit there,” Marugo said.” “They’re expired, but they never go away.”

In the case of one home bought by Paul Smith, a realtor and owner of Twelve Rivers Realty, an expired permit lingered even after the structure was demolished.

Smith told KXAN he recently bought a property and tore it down. He then applied for a construction permit and found out there was an expired permit associated with the property’s previous structure. He still had to reapply for the permit — and pay the fee — in order to resolve it. And the delay cost him, he said.

Fees vary depending on the type of permit. Fee estimates are available on Development Service’s web page here, and homeowners can contact the department with a request at its Service Center here.

“I think the permitting process is important,” Smith said. “But we also don’t want it to be such a pain the butt that it is hindering the process as well.”

Smith said, in his experience, it would not be typical for a real estate agent to check the city’s permitting data to see if a home has an expired permit, and most don’t do that.

Depending on the type of work that was done under an expired permit, remedying it can range from a nuisance to a significant problem. Marugo said he was called to do a plumbing remodel on an addition to a home 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the city never inspected the work for the addition and the permits expired. Before beginning the new plumbing work, Marugo said an inspector wanted all the sheetrock torn out to inspect the framing.

What can you do?

Beth Culver, building official with the City of Austin, said her office typically advises realtors and prospective buyers “to check a property in the public search to see if there are any expired or active permits on the property.”

“Follow the process and go through our ABC portal and our public search. You can find out if a permit was pulled and if any permits were finaled or expired or are currently in process,” Culver said.

A homeowner can reactivate an expired permit once, if it is eligible. If it isn’t eligible, they can apply for a new permit, she said.

“If eligible for reactivation, the homeowner will need to pay any required fees and schedule the outstanding inspections.  If something is out of compliance, they will need to correct the issue,” according to the Development Services Department.

Searcy said it may be possible to get a permit for work that is totally unrelated to the expired permit. For example, a homeowner may be able to get a permit for a new electrical panel even if there is an expired plumbing permit at the house.

Price said homeowners should carefully consider hiring reputable contractors who will ensure all work is completed and up to code and all permits are finalized.

“When [homeowners] hire a contractor, that is the contractor’s responsibility. But, ultimately, if you hire somebody that isn’t going to fulfill that responsibility, then it does land back on the homeowner,” Price said. “It is something that they should take an interest in whenever they’re deciding what contractor to go with.”

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