Garage conversion draws red flag

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DEAR BARRY: The home we're buying has a garage that was converted to a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. The sellers disclosed that this was done without a building permit. We're worried about what the building department might do if they discover this nonpermitted conversion. What do you recommend? --Mike

DEAR MIKE: Consult the local building department to learn their official position regarding unpermitted garage conversions. Municipal agencies have different policies in this regard. Some building departments are busy and tend to look the other way; some are very strict and actively enforce violations; some take action only when they receive a complaint from an unhappy neighbor; some allow garages to be converted with a permit; and others do not allow garage conversions under any circumstances.

Above all, you don't want the city ordering you to restore the garage after you've taken possession of the property. Undoing a conversion of that kind could cost th...