Q. Seeing the hassle my neighbor is going through, it seems that it’s more of a penalty for doing the right thing than if I just go ahead. We want to remove the wall between our kitchen, dining room and living room and enlarge our deck. You write about getting permits for even small things, but after seeing what my neighbor went through, I think I’ll just apply later, before I sell. How long does it typically take, and will I have more problems for doing it after the fact?
A. I have to tell you that you must get a permit before starting work, that you have to do the right thing. I don’t need to tell building officials that if the system were easier to get through, there would be more people doing things the right way. They know. Instead, the problem just self-perpetuates. Officials must react to prevent disaster, like the deck collapse that killed three or the restaurant manager who died because a basement water heater spewed carbon monoxide. Round and round, like a puppy chasing its tail, people do things without permits, get caught (in some cases) or do non-compliant work, for any number of reasons, try to fix the problem, without proper guidance, and it just gets worse.
The codes/permit process began after an entire metropolis burned to the ground. Imagine running for your life, with the entire city engulfed in flames, to Lake Michigan on that evening in Chicago, when you had to hold your children and yourself under water to keep your flesh from melting like cheese. It really happened, and frankly, with the things I hear and see, given the “freedom to choose,” it could happen again.