Submitted by Stephen Beckman
Fernandina Beach Building Official
November 9, 2020
[Over the past year, the City of Fernandina Beach has issued 54 stop work orders. The article below explains why such actions are necessary.]
Stop work orders are placed on a job when work is found that is being done without the proper permits, performed by people who should not be doing the work, or when a permit is obtained and workers are proper if it is dangerous or unsafe. Florida State statutes require a Building Official to stop work that meets any of these conditions.
Rarely does work get stopped because it is found to be unsafe or dangerous when it is being done by permit and the appropriately licensed contractors, but it does happen. Most of the time, it is because a permit hasn’t been obtained, and the contractor is unlicensed.
Why do people not want to get permits? There are a number of reasons that people don’t pull permits that mainly stem from worry that it will increase their taxes, cost too much, be too difficult, or fear inspectors will nitpick or find other problems. For the most part, these fears are misplaced.
First of all, many things don’t require permits—things like changing fixtures and most minor repairs. Minor repairs can mean fixing a leak in the roof, a leak in a pipe, or a broken door. If you have any doubt, you can call the Building Department to ask. If you are worried that doing so will flag you, you can always just call anonymously. Calling the Building Department (904) 310-3135 may easily clear up the question.
One concern is that a permit will be expensive. While building a new house may require a $2,000 permit, most permits only cost $100 or less. Some may cost a couple hundred bucks. Generally, permits cover the time involved for an inspector to do the required inspections, which will help ensure that you do not have to worry about problems.
Sometimes the concern is that you won’t be able to do the work yourself. Here in Florida, if you own your home and occupy it (not for rent or lease or for sale), you can do the work. You will still need to follow the codes and get inspections, so be sure you know what the requirements are. If something fails an inspection, you can correct it and get it reinspected. If you are in doubt about something, the Building Department can help you find the answers to what is required.
So why get a permit? To start with, it’s the law, unless it is a minor repair. The reason it is law is that legislators have recognized that history has shown us that if we do not have these codes and inspect the work, buildings become less safe. For this reason, it is the intent of the Florida legislature to require that buildings be inspected. Building fires, structural failures, lack of egress, to name a few, can result in loss of life. Another good reason is that if you ever have a problem associated with work that was done, water leak, fire, structural failure, you may be on your own when it comes to filing an insurance claim. Also, when selling your home, an astute buyer can find out if certain improvements were permitted and, if not, may walk away from the sale or not be able to obtain financing. For many things that you might do, probably the number one reason to get the permit, at least in my opinion as the Building Official, is that you will get to have a highly qualified code expert inspect the work. This protects you as the owner from getting work done incorrectly, which can result in loss of property or worse, loss of life. A permit to add circuitry for new things, such as a hot tub, will cost about $90. This gets you two inspections, a rough and a final. Is it worth $90 to ensure your new electrical is safe? Where else can you get a qualified inspector to show up at your house to inspect something for $45? See the photo of an electrical disconnect for a hot tub installed in a dangerous manner by “an electrician,” which was discovered when work was being done without permits.
A building permit to remodel your entire home might cost $200-$400 and will get you maybe a dozen inspections. A $30,000 remodel general permit would cost $203 that goes to the city, and $4 to the state making the total fee $207. If that job includes re-wiring, it would require an electrical permit which would cost $84 ($80 to the city and $4 to the state). Often as homeowners, we are not experts in construction and do not know the details of the various codes. A permit and inspections take a great deal of worry off your shoulders and provide a better job. How about this “contractor” who remodeled a house and made a new bathroom and found a creative way to address the electrical panel? See the photos below.
Lastly, if you are hiring an unlicensed contractor in Florida, they will not be allowed to pull permits as a proper license is required. Often an unlicensed contractor will ask you to pull the permit as an owner, which is against the law and can result in a stop work order if discovered, and steep fines to both the owner and the unlicensed contractor. Unlicensed contracting in Florida is a felony, and State Statute requires the Building Official to take action when it is found. Besides fines, a final certificate of occupancy can ultimately be denied per Florida Statute. Many times owners choose to take this risk because the work is cheaper and/or they can’t find a contractor to meet their schedule. Doing this comes at significant risk to an owner. Unlicensed work without permits can result in fines, penalties, disconnection of building utilities, and substandard work.
Hiring the right people and getting a permit may cost a little more but comes with many benefits by eliminating many potential issues that could end up costing far more than you can ever save.