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This is my first post. I've read some of the other post about issues, but I don't really see any good advice. First off, I know what I did was wrong. The situation was absolutely crazy at the time and I did what I had to do. Now I would like to make it right and get a permit. So bear with my long post, I'm not sure what information is relevant, so you get the whole thing.

Here is the backstory: We are the sole owners of our home outside of Baltimore MD, built in 2000. Our basement was mostly unfinished, with just a few walls blocking the utility area and a storage room. The builder had included A rough in for a full bath, windows, HVAC Vents, insulated the walls, there were a few ceiling lights and outlets and a bare concrete floor. We used it as storage and a kid's play area, even though it was unfinished, and had tossed some of our old furniture down there as a hang-out space, which worked great when they were teens. We had always wanted to finish it, but we just never seemed to have the time or money to make it a reality.

Fast-forward to 2020, my daughter and her fiancé were living and working in New York City. When COVID happened, and the city shut down, she asked if they could come back to our home. My wife was also extremely freaked out about the situation and wanted them at our house ASAP. So they packed up what little they had and came to our house to live. My son's college closed also, and he came home a few weeks later. So we had 5 adults living and working in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home.

At first, we did what we could to create some isolated home offices and living spaces, using the unfinished basement as the main living space from my daughter and her fiancé and 2 of the 3 bedrooms as work from home offices. My wife worked from our bedroom and I worked in the dining room. It took us about a week to realize that the arrangement was not working well.

We decided that we needed to finish the basement and started calling contractors. They all pretty much laughed and said they already had backlogs through the summer. One of them mentioned that he wanted $10K up front just to get us in the schedule and that even if he could do the work, he couldn't get any permits under the circumstances and that if he did the work, we would be responsible for paying for the permits and penalties after the work was done. I called the county myself, and they confirmed they were only booking appointments for inspections related to work for business that were deemed essential services.

So at that point we hatched a plan to do it ourselves. I had a lot of basic construction experience my self as a teen, so I knew I could do the framing, and I hung drywall a few times, when needed. I had been a pretty good DIY home fixer over the years. My son and my daughters' fiancé also were pretty handy and willing to help. My wife and daughter also said they would do what they could.

So we sketched out the basic layout to add two rooms, full bath and a few cabinets, sink and fridge to make a little kitchenette. I watched a ton of videos, especially plumbing and electrical, which I was not something I was extremely familiar with. Then made about 10 trips to Home Depot and loaded up the garage with 2x4's drywall, a toilet, tub, sink and tons of other things that we were pretty sure we would need. We weren't the only ones who had similar ideas, but it seems like we beat the big rush and got most of the supplies before everything was sold out.

We had the rooms framed out within a weekend and had wired up the outlets, lights. I hired a guy from the HD parking lot to help with drywall and sparkling, and he knew a guy who worked as an electrician, and we used him to wire the electrical panel. He also checked wiring we had done and other than a few minor suggestions. He checked all of our outlets and switches with a tester and confirmed we were wired correctly. The plumbing was easy since the rough-in connections were in place. With the two guys part-time help, we had the whole thing, except the floor and 2 interior doors, done in about 4 weeks. The missing doors took a few months to get. By the time we got to flooring, we couldn't find anything in stock. I ended up finishing that myself last summer.

OK, so fast-forward to 2023. Finishing the basement, without getting the permit done, has been in the back of my mind and bugging me since 2020. I know we plan to move in a few years, and I'm worried that we'll get in trouble for not doing the permit. My friends say to just not worry about it and sell the house as is. I think that would just draw more suspicion. I've done some research, and it seems like it's possible to get a retroactive permit. I checked in my own county and I do not see anything on their website about my specific situation. I have also been reluctant to call the county yet until I have a better understanding of what could happen and how much trouble I'm going to be in. This is really why I'm posting. I'm trying to understand what is the best way to fix this issue.

Here are some things that I think we did not do to code:

  1. We never installed a ceiling vent in the full bath, and there is no window in that space. So I'm sure I'm going to have to get that done. It's adjacent to the utility room, so I don't think it's a big problem.

  2. There are a few walls which do not have the correct number of outlets. I think we need to add 3 or 4 more outlets, but the good news is that those walls are open on the back side since they face the utility room and storage rooms.

  3. The electrician guy told us we needed more staples on the wires that we attached to the studs. We scrounged around several stores, but couldn't find any, and decided to just close in the rest of the walls. So we probably didn't use enough.

  4. We need to hard-wire the smoke detectors in one of the rooms we built. We have a battery only one in there now.

Now for the questions, how should I prep for the inspection. Should I hire a licensed electrician to come in and cut open the walls, check everything? How about the same for plumbing? In the bathroom, I've tiled the wall with the shower control valve already. What other things should I prepare for, before calling the county?

What types of fines should I expect? Do you think there is a reasonable chance they make us rip out all the work?

Anyway, thanks to any professionals who are willing to offer advice or suggestions. I'm really stressing about this, and I really do appreciate it.

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    Yeah, being in a situation where your LAHJ is not processing permits is somewhere I don't think any of us on this site want anyone to experience. Nov 5, 2023 at 3:58
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    outside of Baltimore MD - Permits in MD are generally by county, so which actual jurisdiction (Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Anne Arundel County are all possible matches) could make a big difference. Nov 5, 2023 at 4:17
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    Don't do anything. You're only going to make trouble for yourself. Quit worrying. Nov 5, 2023 at 4:39
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    Do you, or does HoCo have any record of what the builder provided in the finished home?
    – SteveSh
    Nov 5, 2023 at 13:08
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    TBH I don't think it's even gonna be an issue. I've bought two homes and sold one in MoCo and there was never any question of whether an improvement was permitted.
    – Huesmann
    Nov 6, 2023 at 20:46

2 Answers 2

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Your question of

Do you think there is a reasonable chance they make us rip out all the work?

Yes, HoCo might make you do that. I have read where HoCo has had unpermitted decks removed.

That said, I would not have anyone come in to do any work to try and "correct" things. That's opening up a can of worms, IMHO, unless you think you really messed up someplace that will create a health or safety issue.

With a home inspection 80% of the battle is making sure everything looks neat and right. No home inspector is going to open up walls to look & see if the electrical cables are properly stapled. I've never had an inspector even remove any outlet or switch covers. They do inspect the main and any subpanels, pulling off the cover looking for obvious things things like neutral ground tie ins or separation, exposed copper on hot (black or red) conductors, and may use an IR camera to look for any hot spots.

Note that all home inspection reports come with paragraph or two of disclaimer stating things they are not responsible for finding, like plumbing or electrical problems behind walls or anything other conditions that may not be "accessible".

If you're going to take a pass on the Maryland seller's disclaimer part of the contract, you might want to hire your own home inspector prior to putting your home on the market to see what he or she finds. Most of what they find tend to be nit-picking.

We are in the process of buying a vacation condo in Maryland, and we just had the home inspection done. The inspector did find a handful of items over which we are negotiating with the sellers, including fogged-up thermal pane windows, a 24 year old hot water heater, a garbage disposal that's not working, and the electrical panel having the neutral and grounds tied together. Then there were bunch of "who cares, I can fix that" issues.

In your case, it comes down to "how honest do you want to be on the disclosure section of a contract to sell your home". You can just cross that section out. Or you can go thought the individual items and check off the permitted, not permitted, or unknown box next to the repair & improvement questions.

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  • I always like the permit quiz and the "permitted, not permitted or unknown" boxes. I have no idea what the prior owner did, nor can I make assumptions, so I just say everything is "unknown". It's a fairly useless quiz.
    – Smith
    Nov 5, 2023 at 15:43
  • Agreed. But it makes the state feel like they're doing something useful to help the home buying process. I mean, what's the penalty for mistakenly saying some work was permitted? Or "I assumed the contractor was taking care of that".
    – SteveSh
    Nov 5, 2023 at 16:10
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    We just bought a home in MD, and our agent says he had lunch with the guy who wrote the "permit quiz" form. He told our agent, if I were buying a home, I would never consider a seller that didn't fill it out. And if I were selling a home, I would always decline to fill it out. Kind of tells you everything you need to know about the process, right? 😂
    – James B
    Nov 6, 2023 at 22:20
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Fix everything that a real estate inspector can see. If you're selling the place "as is," then you're going to get inspected. Inspected hard. Check with a real estate agent on what kind of value loss you should anticipate with "as is" terms and the extent of your unpermitted work. And check with a well worn real estate agent, not a shiny new one.

If the work is up to code, then you wouldn't have to tear any electrical or plumbing out. You would have to provide access, however, where maybe that's what you meant by "rip out all the work." The access may sound painful, but it sounds like you're already adept with drywall.

Time to invest in a rotozip if you don't already have one. Reuse the drywall that you remove if you can. If you can't get drywall pieces removed without breaking them, then draw straight lines on the wall to follow so that score-and-snapped drywall can patch things. They sell cans of orange peel texture at the hardware store, where using that stuff might be new to you.

Uninspected stuff behind the shower wall and behind the kitchenette could be especially difficult. If you're very confident in the kitchenette work, then an oscillating multitool cutting through the back of cabinets could be a good idea.

Looking at your electrical legalese, I see nothing about fines. You would have to hire somebody, though. See 3.203(5).

Looking at your plumbing legalese, there can be a fine. See 3.303(f)(4). I suspect that the fine is intended mostly for gas work which has been lumped together with plumbing. If you initiate remediation, I have a hard time imagining getting in any trouble, but I'm not a lawyer. You would also have to hire somebody to do the plumbing. See 3.301(d) (good luck parsing through (d)(2)).

In my city "as is" terms are no big deal. Homebuyers are irrational, but there may be a component due to the city's laxness about homeowners performing construction work on their own homes. Your county doesn't have this laxness, so the real estate market may punish "as is" terms far more harshly.

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    I would ask what you mean by "inspected hard." Home inspectors aren't going to tear into anything, except open what is meant to be opened (like doors and panels).
    – Smith
    Nov 5, 2023 at 15:40

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