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Ask the Architect

Can a contractor cancel a permit?


Q. We’re stuck in a dilemma with our construction because our contractor stopped coming back and wants more money. We have a signed contract, but the contractor said he wants more, and without an explanation of why. We told him that we’ll get another contractor, but he said that because he pulled the permit, we can’t do that, because he’ll just cancel the permit, so we have to continue with him for the extra cost. Can he do that? Can he cancel the permit or hold us hostage this way? We’re trying to figure out how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it.

A. The permit belongs to the owner of the property, not the contractor. Just because your contractor “pulled” the permit doesn’t give him ownership or control of it. I’ve always thought that the jargon conjured up an image of the contractor with his heels against the building department counter, yanking with all his might, as if they he pulling taffy.
The permit issuance is based on a set of plans that took time to complete, that have to show the many construction technical facets and code regulations, and the department reviewing the plans won’t release them until the requirements have been met. Obtaining the permit isn’t exactly a feat; it’s more an activity. Your contractor showed up. He didn’t pull anything, I hope.
You should be the one holding the permit in a safe place, on the premises, available every time the building inspector arrives for an inspection. I hope you’re aware that there are multiple times the inspector must be called at various stages during the construction. Many people aren’t kept apprised that inspections for everything, in order — excavation, foundation forming, foundation completion, framing, insulation, plumbing, electrical and final — must be documented by building officials in order to obtain the final certificate of completion.

What your contractor can do is notify the building department that issued the permit that he will no longer be the contractor, which initiates the process in which you’ll have to get a new contractor to provide his county home improvement license number and the required insurance forms for workers’ compensation. Some municipalities also require proof of liability and disability insurance. All insurance certificates have to show the municipality, in the appropriate section of the certificate, as the additional insured.
So you have to either sever ties with the first contractor or try to work it out. You could try to have an impartial expert, such as an attorney or architect, or both, hear the two sides of your disagreement, if the contractor will participate. If not, you can have the new contractor substituted with documentation that the first contractor has been terminated. As for your agreement with the first contractor, it becomes a legal matter, and you should consult an attorney if the contractor doesn’t cooperate.

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.