Kitchen saga update, and call for advice

Around the first of the year, we had some work done in the kitchen. Now, I have to get a permit from the city to authorize that work.

So far the efforts to get a permit on my own have been daunting. I have been to the city three times and been told three different things. First it was that I needed more details about the joists above and below. Next it was that I need just a little more detail on the plans, but it should be OK. Finally, the third day, the result was confusing, but the best I could understand was that the most qualified people available at the city building dept at the time *could not tell* if what I was trying to do was legal per the code or not, and that I would need to retain an engineer to at least review the plans and stamp them, if not rewrite them. At first the story was that I would really only need an engineer if I’m asking for an exception to the codes or an alternate material or plan… but now it seems that the city by itself can’t actually tell what’s legal/code and what’s not… or even what’s structurally OK or what’s not, and thus I have to seek a third party. (Possibly if it was a detached house they would have let me go ahead, but I think they are being a bit more paranoid since it is an attached townhouse.)

All this time I have been trying to avoid getting a general contractor involved, because my thought was that it would double the cost of the work and I would end up paying over 10k instead of 4k for the work and 1k for the permit. But, the more I try to resist, the more it is looking like I need a general contractor… not necessarily to do the work I can’t, but to be able to drop official-looking plans on the city permit people and bluff them with a straight face, and to be able to have more details at the ready when the city guys scratch the surface. The whole “Look what I printed in visio! We have 11×17 paper!” thing doesn’t seem to impress them much and I’m getting the impression they are picking on any little thing to keep me from submitting and eventually getting inspected.

Among all this worry is that I’m realizing that the work we already had done is most likely NOT code-compliant. Not just on a technicality, but it’s probably not earthquake-proof and may not even be structurally sound. That means someone will have to come in and either re-do it, or worst-case UNDO it and redo it.

That also means that the person who did the work for me did a bad job, and I have almost no recourse against him. Basically, he thought what he was doing would pass inspection (or that’s what he said anyway) and that it would be a “simple” matter of getting it inspected and all would be OK. Basically, the implied agreement was that he would do his best, and do it for cheap, and that I would ultimately take responsibility if it’s not right. I don’t know the trade well enough to say whether it was an honest mistake or an outright shortcut on his part. (Of course I could report to the city or whoever that this guy did work for me without a license or permit, but I know that would screw with his effort to get licensed and this guy is a friend of a friend, so I’m not willing to “turn him in” — even if the work was bad I will still hold up my end of the implied agreement)

So at this point I have a few options. One is, to continue to be my own general contractor, but to hire an engineer or architect just for creating the design on paper. In that case I could still get things corrected, and would probably be an additional 500 or 1k over what I thought. This also has the advantage that I could probably get the original unlicensed guy to help make it right, if work needs to be done to make reality match the plan of record (which is probably the only recourse I would have against the guy, that I’m willing to take…) But the disadvantage is that I would have to expend considerably more of my time and there would still be a chance that it’s not good enough and would still have to fall back to plan B.

Plan B would be to find a general contractor who is willing to work with things the way they are (while submitting plans to the city that only describe the “original” and “finished” states). (This requires a little bit of finesse to get right… I have looked over all the permit papers and there is no statement to sign that says “work has not yet started”, so it is possible to get the permit without lying about it. I don’t lie and don’t approve of lying, but I believe selective disclosure is OK, especially for people I don’t know or don’t much care about :) So, a good general contractor with some finesse, who can either generate plans or has easy access to an architect or engineer, would be the best. That would mean paying that contractor for the actual work, not just the design, and he would have his own guys doing it. (If I can’t find a contractor willing to be flexible enough to execute plan B, perhaps the guy who first did the work would be motivated to help me find one :) Truthfully I would be satisfied with this option, especially if I can get the whole project done for around 6k+1.5k for permit… that plus the 3.5k I already spent would put the whole project under 10k which is what I initially thought)

Plan C would be if I can’t find a general contractor willing to finesse the system, I would just declare the non-permitted work and throw myself at the mercy of the city, probably to pay penalties for doing the work “myself” without proper permits, and then executing plan B on top of that.

Any advice welcomed, but especially let me know if you know a good general contractor who is reasonable, doubly so if it’s a friend.

0 thoughts on “Kitchen saga update, and call for advice

  1. kethry

    Welcome to the world of red tape!

    I don’t know exactely the work you did or the extent of the remodel.
    I think the first guy will be little help. He seemed to do shoddy work on the first place, what would his his motivation to try harder next time?

    So I would suggest Option B with a generator contractor. He would finish the job, make sure its up to code and deal with all the paperwork. Your time and mental well-being is far more valuable. Also making sure you have a legal remodel with all the right permits will help when you want to sell your place in the far future.

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