At a New Year's Party, a friend told me that he was working with someone to renovate his Victorian. She wasn't a professional, just did it as a hobby…had a crew she worked with. The prices were good. I had a feeling he wasn't planning on pulling permits and that the workers were either undocumented or un-insured. I guessed right and then kind of lost my mind over it.
He's looking at a 100K + renovation for his kitchen and bath. Probably more like 150K if he decides to do 2 baths. Victorians are tricky. There's horsehair plaster, old old wiring and plumbing, and bringing it up to code is expensive. The only way to do it right is to pull permits, not to mention that it's the law in MA that past a certain percentage of changes, permits must be pulled. It protects the homeowner, and offers recourse against damage.
- What if someone falls down the stairs and gets (God forbid) a head injury. In the absence of a workman's comp policy — which is also the law in MA — that contractor sues the homeowner to cover medical expenses. Home owners insurance won't cover that since it's labor w/o a permit. That's a 1M suit, easy.
- What if a neighbor or someone sees work being done without a permit in the window? Not sure you can hide a dumpster in an urban neighborhood. Neighbors will see it, not to mention anyone else who happens to be on the street. If you get caught, not only do you get fined, but then you have to pull a permit and now the building inspector is mad.
- What if the house has a fire because the wiring isn't done right? What if your house burns to the ground or someone dies or is injured in a fire because you decided to save some cash by having your cousin do the work?
- What if a pipe bursts and the plumber has no insurance and it floods 3 floors of a condo below? (This actually happened to a client. Thankfully we had pulled a permit and the plumber's insurance paid for ALL repairs on ALL 3 floors below!)
- What if the next home owners decide to go to the building inspector's to make sure that permitting was done? I know of more than one real estate deal to fall through when there was no permit or when the final sign off never happened.
Point of fact: I won't work on a job without permits. Maybe people who do this type of work as "a hobby" feel comfortable with out a permit, but I know of not one professionals who would.
If that's not enough, here's one more reason why you shouldn't attempt wiring on your own — from th Boston Globe, Do-it-yourself books recalled over risk, an interesting article about recalling DIY books with faulty instructions for electrical wiring.
If you have more reasons why you should pull a permit, or a horror story from unlicensed labor, please do share.