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4 Legal Things to Keep in Mind When Remodeling a Home

There’s no denying that a home remodel can be one of the most exciting but stressful projects you will ever undertake. One of the first things to consider as you begin your remodeling project is avoiding getting embroiled in unnecessary legal disputes on this very personal project.

It is essential to slow down and consider the legal issues that are unique to residential remodeling. If you fail to plan, you may be forced to make expensive decisions that you are not comfortable with.

It is also important to understand what role your contracting partner plays in this process. A contractor’s primary job is to coordinate all of the work and hold subcontractors accountable for their work on your home improvement project. This means that it will ultimately be up to your contractor how these legal matters are dealt with (when in doubt, ask!).

The best way for an owner or a design professional who an owner has retained to achieve their goals without sacrificing quality or introducing avoidable risk is through careful planning and communication.

Familiarize Yourself With Your State’s Building Codes and Restrictions

Most states have building codes designed to protect public health, safety, and welfare based on minimum acceptable standards for new construction and remodeling activities. For example, suppose you would like to add a master bathroom or expand your home with a bigger family room. In that case, you must abide by those codes when making decisions about plumbing, electrical wiring, and expansion of useable space. Speak with an architect or engineer if you need help with design work before any construction work occurs. These professionals can be invaluable resources in helping guide decisions that will determine whether your project will be successful from both a safety perspective and a financial one.

Will You Have a General Contractor or Be Doing This Project Yourself?

If you do have a contractor – choose your general contractor wisely. A good general contractor will help with some of these issues or at least advise you on them. However, if you are trying to handle all the jobs (like most DIYers), then concentrate on:

  1. Getting all of the necessary building permits.
  2. Hiring an appropriate subcontractor for each job (roofing, insulation, electrical).
  3. Making sure that the subs you hire are licensed and carry insurance, and understand that once a permit is issued by your city or county government, they have protection in case of injury to yourself or others. If something goes wrong on site while the work is being done – it will be between you (the owner) and them (the contractor). It is imperative to have this understanding upfront, as things can always go wrong.

What Works Need Permits?

Most cities have building codes that regulate things like how high your fence can be relative to your property boundary lines; what areas of the yard require landscaping grading for proper drainage and surface runoff; whether buildings need fire sprinklers (yes, in Southern California); and many other items.

Your local city building inspection department is a good source for information, or call your local building department and ask for their “codes” person. In addition, a copy of the most current “sanitary code” applicable in your area should be available at your city’s planning office.

Do You Need to Obtain Any Special Permits From Your Local City Government?

Your freshly remodeled bathroom plan may look great on paper (or online), but will it pass muster with the folks who enforce the codes? Is that laundry room addition going to dominate your neighbor’s view out his kitchen window? Will that swimming pool fill need approval from the water quality authorities? These issues can be complex – talk with an experienced contractor, architect, or planner.