Should you buy a house without proper building permits?
Q: We are purchasing a house from longtime friends of ours. Up until now, we have not felt the need to hire an attorney as we are paying cash for the house and know for a fact the price is fair.
The sellers have done extensive work at the property, including finishing the basement and building a three-season room. The husband seller is a carpenter and did most of the work himself. Electrical, concrete and other parts of the construction were done by friends of theirs, who we also know. We are confident the work was professionally done.
While discussing this transaction with another friend, he asked me if I thought the sellers pulled permits for this work. I had not thought about that so I asked the seller, who said he did not. He told me the work was all professionally sound and his family has lived in the house for many years after the work was done. He asked if I thought he would put his family in jeopardy with inferior or substandard work. Of course I responded that I did not believe he would do that.
We are concerned, though. What can happen if the village finds out this work was done without permits? Could they make us tear it all down? Would we be exposed to fines? This is making a mess out of what up to now was a smooth and pleasant experience.
A: You have every right to be concerned. I nor anyone else can tell you for certainty what action the village might take if they discovered the unpermitted work. However, your concerns of what the village may do are not unrealistic.
Substandard electrical work can lead to a host of issues in addition to being a fire hazard. Once the village becomes aware of the unpermitted work, it would seem to me they would be bound to investigate. Imagine if the village became aware of this, did nothing and a fire subsequently occurred, causing injury or death. The potential liability to the village would be enormous.
So, the village finds out and they come to the house to investigate. How can they possibly determine if the wiring was done properly without taking down the drywall? What if they determine the foundation was not set properly for the three-season room, or plumbing was not up to code in the basement?
Of course, it is unlikely the village will ever discover all this. However, is it worth the risk and exposure to you? And, you will be selling the house one day and your buyer will be asking the same questions. If anyone takes the step of visiting the village hall, they will discover no permits were ever pulled on this construction. What might that lead to?
The simple answer here is you should not purchase this property without full disclosure to the village of the work and proper permits being pulled. Perhaps your seller/friend has contacts at the village to assist in obtaining the relevant permits without causing much damage to the existing structure.
Q: My parents owned their home for more than 40 years. They both died within the past year. All they owned was the house and a few bank accounts. My sister and I were on the bank accounts so we have received that money. What we don't understand is how do we get the house in our names? My parents did not have a will.
A: The only way to get the property in your name is to open an estate, have one of you appointed administrator and then prepare and record a deed conveying the property from the estate of the second of your parents to die to you and your sister. This is presuming your parents owned the property as joint tenants.
However, if you and your sister are the only children ever born to or adopted by either of your parents, you own the house and can do with it as you see fit. The only issue that could interfere with this is if your parents had any outstanding obligations. Presuming the obligations were valid and the creditor wished to pursue collection of what was owed, any estate asset could be used to pay those obligations.
Absent any issues with debt, there really isn't a reason to get involved with the time and expense of opening an estate and transferring title to you and your sister. If you wish to sell the house, once the heirship of your parents is established, selling should not be a problem. If you wish to keep the house and rent it out or live in it, no one will likely interfere. If you sell the house, I might suggest holding some money off to the side for at least two years in case any creditors of your parents appear.
• Send your questions to attorney Tom Resnick, 910 E. Oak St., Lake in the Hills, IL 60156, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (847) 359-8983.