Real estate Q&A: I didn't pull permits for work on my house. Will that come back to bite me?

Gary M. Singer, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Business News

Q: Years ago, I renovated my home doing much of the work myself. Since I was working on my house, all the construction was done far exceeding the minimum building code requirements, and it has held up well. However, I did not pull permits. I am planning on selling my home and concerned about this coming back to haunt me. Please help. -- John

A: Pulling permits is about more than paying a fee to your municipality. The process involves a qualified official reviewing your plans and inspecting the completed work to ensure it meets code requirements for safety. However, you cannot turn back the clock. The key to protecting yourself from liability to your buyer is full disclosure of all issues regarding your home that are not readily observable.

Your buyer should get an inspection, but even the best inspector cannot find hidden issues, so you are required to disclose these issues, which are called "latent defects."

In my experience, many sellers are reluctant to do this out of fear that it will scare off potential buyers, but that is rarely the case. Most buyers are more concerned about the neighborhood and the view than the fact that you repaired a roof leak several years ago. More importantly, a buyer cannot hold you accountable for any issue that you disclosed to them, so complete and detailed disclosure is your best protection again future lawsuits if a problem later pops up.

In many areas, the requirement for a permit will sunset after a certain amount of time as long as the work was done correctly. If enough time has not gone by and the missing permit is causing a problem, you can hire a specialized contractor to open a new permit, inspect the work, and then coordinate with your building department to get the permit closed out.

About The Writer


Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

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