Legal Question in Real Estate Law in California

Seller responsibility for unpermitted construction/remodeling

Approximately one year ago I purchased a home sold by seller and ''Help-U-Sell''. I recently learned from a neighbor that there was quite a bit of remodeling/construction without building permits. The entire roof was rebuilt and shingled and a permit was issued to the contractor, but not finaled. The seller replaced and relocated the hvac unit and rewired it himself without a permit. The seller constructed an outbuilding on a slab with electrical and water and no permit applied for. The seller added a dining room to the kitchen area, roughly an 8 x 10 bump out of two load bearing walls with electrical and window, and no permit applied for. I checked with the county office to make sure there were no permits. Do I have any legal recourse to hold the seller responsible for making this right, or does the responsibility now fall on me? Also, how will the unpermitted changes affect my homeowners insurance?

Asked on 8/17/07, 2:13 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Bryan Whipple Bryan R. R. Whipple, Attorney at Law

Re: Seller responsibility for unpermitted construction/remodeling

You have inherited a bunch of problems that California law doesn't expect you ought to inherit.

I think your first step, if you haven't done so already (looks like you have done a lot of background work) is to find your file on the sale and close of escrow. It will be full of disclosure papers of all kinds, or at least it should be! Look for anything not disclosed that should have been, or any false disclosures.

Did you use an agent yourself? That would put another light on the whole matter.

Then, find someone (a friendly real estate agent, the agent you used, a title officer, or a lawyer) who can tell you if all the required disclosures were made.

Look at your contract to see what dispute-resolution options were initialed by the parties, e.g., mediation, arbitration, and attorney fees for the prevailing party. The presence or absence of these provisions will influence the best tactics and the point of beginning.

As to your insurance, if you have a local agent whom you trust and with whom you have a good working relationship, I'd suggest starting by making an appointment to go over your coverage with that agent at an off-hour when he or she can spend some time with you going over the policy rules regarding no-permit work. I can't speak for any particular policy, but it is not an automatic voiding in all situations.

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Answered on 8/17/07, 10:02 pm

Robert L. Bennett Law offices of Robert L. Bennett

Re: Seller responsibility for unpermitted construction/remodeling

The L.A. Times Real Estate section had an in-depth, and well-written (in my opinion, anyway) column in today's edition, with the web page cited here.,0,7394533.story?coll=la-realestate-transaction

This is a very complex area, that can be extremely tricky. In a nutshell, based on your set of facts, you have a good chance of prevailing on several different theories, should a law suit be filed. The seller also may have some defenses. My opinion is that you do have legal recourse.

As to the homeowner's insurance, different companies have different rate structures and rules. I am not a big fan of insurance companies, as to meeting obligations under the law. I have a daughter on the Mississippi Gulf Coast whose house was demolished by Katrina 2 years ago, and she, and many neighbors, are still awaiting the first penny from their homeowner's policies. Notify your agent/broker at once and go on record with your non-permit problems.

E-mail me, or call, if you need more.

Good luck!

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Answered on 8/17/07, 2:44 pm
Scott Linden Scott H. Linden, Esq.

Re: Seller responsibility for unpermitted construction/remodeling

Yes you have ecourse, yes you have a lawsuit and yes, it will adversely effect your insurance.

A seler is responsible to sell you a home that has everything up to code, unless explicitly explained and accepted in "as is" condition and even that is questionable depending on the types of violations. In your case, it sounds like the person may have made the home structurally unsound, so that would certainly be against public policy and safety concerns.

Please feel free to call our office for a free consultation. The number and address provided by LawGuru is correct or we can be reached through our firm's website at



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Answered on 8/17/07, 5:13 pm

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