Q: We put a second bathroom in the basement of our home, without getting a permit. A well-respected contractor did everything to code. Our concern is what happens if and when we want to sell. Can we advertise it as a two-bathroom house? Do we face any fines? –Matt A.

A: First of all, when you go to sell a home, you are legally required to disclose anything you know about the home that might affect the new buyer. This would obviously include the new bathroom. If you fail to notify them, your lack of disclosure could easily be grounds for legal action on the part of the buyer. Also, any reputable real estate agent will not take the listing if you are not honest about the condition of the home, since the agent could be taking on legal liability as well.

Most new buyers are savvy enough to ask if any remodeling work has been done on the home, and then to ask for copies of any relevant building permits for the project. Even if the buyer fails to ask and you fail to disclose, most home inspectors are sharp enough to spot the remodel and make it part of their report on the home’s condition.

At this point, your best bet is simply to ‘fess up and get things legal. You need to contact your local building department, explain the situation, and request the necessary building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits. Since the purpose of a building permit is simply to ensure that a project is constructed safely–which benefits everyone–they typically will applaud your decision to comply with the law and will not penalize you unnecessarily. In most cases, you will need to pay for the permits and then they will send a building inspector to examine the project. The inspector will ask you some questions about what was done, and have you correct anything that is not safe.

Understand that the building inspectors have the right to make you open up concealed parts of the project–cut into a wall, for example–if they feel that something has been done incorrectly and might be unsafe. If you are honest in your dealings with them, treat them courteously, and don’t attempt to conceal things or mislead them in any way, it has been my experience that they’ll only make you do what’s absolutely necessary. As to fines or penalties, that’s up to the local jurisdiction. It’s not unusual for them to require that you pay double permit fees, but that’s cheap in comparison to the potential legal liability you now have.

You also should be aware that the building department will probably ask who did the work, and if a contractor was involved. That may mean that there are some consequences for the builder, but that’s the unfortunate reality of trying to skirt around his or her legal obligations. If this was indeed a “well-respected contractor,” he or she should have known better, should have advised you of what permits were required, and should never have agreed to do the work without a permit.

There is another issue here as well, even if you don’t decide to sell the house. Since the bathroom was constructed illegally, if anything happens as a result of that construction there could be some other consequences for you. For example, if there are problems with the electrical wiring and a fire results from it, when your insurance company finds out about the remodel–and they will–they might be within their rights to deny coverage of the claim. Even if they do cover the claim, they might also be able to take legal action against the contractor to recover their money.

So, all that being said, you really need to make this bathroom legal. It will make it much easier to sell your house, you’ll probably get a higher price for it, and most importantly, you’ll sleep better at night!

Q: What is the fastest and easiest way to temporarily cap off a hole in the ceiling where a wood stove flue once was? The roof has been taken care of. Thanks. –Sonya B.

A: There are round decorative plates that are made specifically to cap off unused ducts. They are available in a couple of standard sizes, and have spring clips on the back that grip the inside of the pipe and hold the plate in place. For additional protection against drafts, you can attach some self-stick foam tape against the back of the plate, which will help seal it against the ceiling. These plates should be available from most home centers and other retailers who sell stove and fireplace supplies.

If that won’t work for you, probably the next easiest solution would be to have any heating or sheet metal shop cut you a piece of sheet metal that’s a little larger than the pipe you want to cap off. Drill holes in the four corners, and use screws to attach the plate to the ceiling. Here again, you can use foam tape to create a more airtight seal.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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