Discovering a code violation may not mean that anyone has even deliberately left something below the code. The materials and technologies considered most safe and standard for building now may not have been available or standard when your home was built or last repaired.
That being said, code violations can occasionally cause issues, especially when you go to sell a home. While a general inspector isn’t likely to pinpoint every little spot where a home fails to measure up to the latest codes, they will notice if anything seems to be in poor repair, done in a dangerous or slapdash way, or otherwise not living up to the standards that are set in the industry.
When you get a report from an inspector that there are housing code violations or other issues, you may find yourself either giving a seller concession, having to make repairs quickly to save a sale, or dropping a price. To avoid both of these less-than-ideal circumstances, take these steps to avoid common housing code violations.
Get to know the common, easy-to-fix code violations
Some code violations, like out-of-date electrical wire materials, are costly to handle since they require a big repair and replacement. However, these kinds of violations are more important simply because they pose dangers to the house and its inhabitants, not just because they happen to violate the building code. However, there are various common code violations that you may be able to handle yourself for minimal costs.
1. Many municipal building codes have clear guidelines about where smoke alarms should be located, so moving incorrectly located alarms can bring you into compliance.
2. Ensure that bathroom fans vent out of the building, not just pouring hot, wet air into the attic to create potential mold risk.
You’ll likely want to avoid asbestos and lead in your home anyway, so testing for these and arranging for mitigation if any are found is key.
3. Keeping your lawn mowed is often a part of the code, so make sure to maintain your landscaping at the level that the code requires.
4. Note any information in your local building code about hand railings: they are required in more areas than you might think and should be fastened in such a way that they don’t snag or hit people and cause a hazard.
5. Pay special attention to anywhere that has been renovated, like bathrooms and kitchens. If these projects were done without permits and without addressing the most up-to-date building codes, they may have violations that could easily be remedied.
6. People who own a pool have to handle various local codes specially created for them, from keeping it drained if it isn’t in use to not locating electrical outlets too close to the pool. Often, it’s not expensive to come into code compliance.
7. While making modifications is a good way to bring your home back into compliance, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As you make plans to modify your home, check online to see if there are common code violations associated with that repair or renovation so that you can do it right the first time.
Find out what needs a permit
Every municipality handles permitting differently, but the goal is that major repairs or additions to homes will get the same kind of scrutiny that new construction gets before a Certificate of Occupancy can be issued.
If you learn, for instance, that turning your garage into a bonus room will require a permit in your area, take the time to obtain the permit and learn any common mistakes the inspector tends to find. Whether you are DIYing or working with a contractor, the permitting process can help you know that any new work is up to code at the time it was added.
Finishing a basement is a common place where building code violations show up.
Work with reputable professionals
If you have the choice between a rock-bottom price for someone who isn’t licensed/certified in their field and a modest price for a reputable professional, remember you want to be up to code! One place that DIYers and other less-professional workers may cut corners is with full code implementation, so make sure your discussion during the estimate/quote process includes asking about permits, common code violations for this procedure, and how to make sure that everything is done to the best standards of the field.
Tradespeople like electricians have national code standards, like The National Electrical Code, which they should be familiar with and able to discuss if they are in tune with their industry.
Don’t fear the inspectors
Inspectors aren’t here to nitpick you and make life difficult: they want your home to be safe and to meet efficiency and conservation standards. We all want our buildings to be well-constructed and safe, so these inspectors aren’t the problem if they find a code violation: the building is the issue.
If you are in the permitting process, the city inspector is a resource for you, helping you hold a contractor or other professional to the standard that they’ve agreed to meet.
If you are nervous that past work on the house wasn’t done to code, for instance, before you owned the home, consider getting an independent general inspection before you even put your home on the market. They’ll let you know what kinds of things would be pointed out on an inspection report and will allow you to decide what is worth fixing before you even list the house.
Anything else they find should be disclosed early on with interested buyers, taking away the shock of a surprisingly long inspector report farther along in the buying process.
The Takeaway: An Ounce of Prevention Saves Stress Down the Road
Of course, many homes have pre-existing code violations, which aren’t your fault, but when you’re planning a home project now, you have the opportunity to save yourself some stress. Take the time to get your ducks in a row!
A simple process of doing some research into common code violations for that project can help you cut out the most easy-to-avoid issues. Then talk to a reputable service provider in your area who can help you know about any quirks of your local code that need to be addressed in the project plan. Finally, contract with someone who is up for the full permitting process, and be ready for that inspector to check out the final results.
If you think you’re about to sell your home, a top real estate agent can also be a valuable resource for getting information on how to minimize or eliminate code violations.
Avoiding code violations may feel like a lot of work now, such as having a professional deck installed with the latest techniques for securely keeping the deck attached to the house. However, when you see stories about decks unexpectedly collapsing because of shoddy workmanship that cut corners, you realize that the work you’re doing is important.
By taking the time to avoid code violations at the beginning of a project, you’re taking advantage of the published best practices of the construction industry. This creates peace of mind and an easy process for you and your family if you decide to sell your home down the road. You will increase your chances of not spending countless hours correcting issues that should not have occurred in the first place.
About the author: The above article on how to avoid housing code violations was written by the team at HomeLight. HomeLight provides exceptional real estate advice for consumers to make intelligent decisions.