Legal Question in Real Estate Law in California

unpermitted remodel/real estate sale

In California, if you sell your home with

unpermitted remodeling/construction

and you are cited by the county one

year after the sale, who is

responsible? Seller or buyer?

Is there any recourse toward the


Asked on 5/28/07, 11:45 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

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

Re: unpermitted remodel/real estate sale

Well, here's what I suppose the applicable general principles are:

(1) The party cited by the county is the party that must initially respond and is initially held to answer, just by virtue of the name inserted in the citation or complaint.

(2) There may be two avenues of approach to placing a former owner on the hook. (a) The first and probably less successful of these is to shift the county's attention away from the current owner and toward the person(s) responsible for carrying out the unpermitted construction in the first place. (b) The other and possibly more practical approach is for the current owner to bring a complaint against the former owner for failure to disclose. The complaint (lawsuit) could perhaps also name the brokers on each side of the transaction as co-defendants based on either failure to disclose (seller's broker) or failure to investigate and report (your broker).

The problems with 2(a), getting the county to go after the people who did the work, may be threefold: first, the county is interested in correcting the problems, not collecting fines or damages, and corrections are the bailiwick of the current owner; second, the current owners are more likely to be found and respond to pressure; and third, the statute of limitations or other time-based rules may make it impossible to assert a claim for doing the work improperly, while there is still an action available for having the un-permitted work in place (against the current owners).

The statute of limitations is also a factor possibly limiting the current owners (you) from going after the sellers and the brokers for non-disclosure or related claims. To the extent your claims might be based on fraud, the statute of limitations is three years from when you discovered or should have discovered the fraud. A claim for failure to disclose might possibly be brought under a breach of written contract theory, if necessary, in which case the statute of limitations would be four years in most cases.

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Answered on 5/29/07, 12:29 am

Ismail Amin The Amin Law Group, Ltd.

Re: unpermitted remodel/real estate sale

Generally, the Seller. However, it will also depend on the Buyer's knowledge of the lack of building permit(s). Please note, that the Buyer may also have recourse against the Seller if the Seller did not disclose the status of the property (permitting) to the Buyer. Which county is the property located in?

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Answered on 5/29/07, 1:22 am

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