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What to Expect When Legalizing an Unpermitted Unit: A Q&A

Every project comes with some unforeseen barriers, here's a couple from a Homeowner who legalized their unpermitted unit

Garage Conversions are an extremely popular way to add value to your home, but in order for them to count towards your equity and appraisal value, they need to be legalized. Homeowners are flipping houses with unpermitted units, legalizing these units, and reselling them for massive profit.

While sometimes it's easier to ask forgiveness rather than ask for permission, this doesn't seem to be the case when building an ADU. Creating an unpermitted unit can cause many headaches down the line, especially if you're going to sell the home at some point, so it's important to do it right the first time if you can. Here's a Q & A with a homeowner who went through the process of legalizing an unpermitted garage conversion.

Housable was able to help this customer legalize the existing unpermitted unit, allowing tenants to move in and the homeowner to get passive income via rent. This customer in particular may be able to recoup the permitting costs entirely in just a couple of years.

What kind of obstacles did you run into that you might not have had this unit been properly permitted at the time of construction?

"The water heater shed that was out front was declared additional square footage by the county, so Housable revised that to remove the shed and use an on demand water heater, but a couple of contractors said it only adds to the square footage if its accessible from the inside. And since the on demand water heater uses ALL of the gas that is deliverable from my 3/4" gas pipe, I had to put in an electric stove and run 10g 30A wire for that (running 40A wire that most electric stoves require would have required new wiring back to the meter).

Not that big of a deal, but it would have saved me some time and money to keep the old shed and water heater. But the gas stove would have required a vent up the side of the house to above the roof line, so at least the electric stove made the side-of-the building vent acceptable."

Not all inspectors may be concerned with the same things. What did inspectors mostly address when looking at the unit?

"The inspectors demanded to unbury and inspect about 12 feet of the main sewer line where the drains tied in. That required some revision as there was some incorrect tie-ins used. One inspector wanted to send a camera all the way to the main sewer...that might have been an expensive disaster, luckily the next inspector wasn't interested in that. The inspectors didn't really look at all at any of the existing work, except for the plumbing. The only really looked at the new work"

What else might you have done differently to the unit during a legal process?

"I had to put in a concrete pad out front and around the side to "protect" that piping that was only buried a few inches down in the soil on the side of the house. Again, not that big a deal and I would have done it anyway as I will be rebuilding a larger shed for the tenant in the apt. The bathroom required a complete remodel as the inspectors wanted to see the plumbing and the vents for the drain lines. Just an FYI for future permitting projects"

What was your experience with the contractors? How important is it to find the right contractor to work with you?

"Dealing with contractors was worse than dealing with the inspectors. The first contractor just tried to screw me over at every turn. Tried to push a WAY oversized window (probably cause he had one sitting around). They installed a 200 amp external panel vs 100 amp plan (again, probably had it sitting around), and then tried to convince me I had to replace the gas and electric all the way back to the meters at front of main house, among other expensive things I didn't really need. That was the end of that company! Clients have to stay on top of what they are doing and be ready to challenge the contractors! Sometimes it's necessary to."

What else might be confusing for those looking to take this sort of challenge on?

"If you the homeowner is able to find a repository of the various code books available for customers to review, that would be very helpful. Going out and digging those up myself always left me wondering if I was using the correct book. Contractors don't really know the codes as well as one might think.

Anyways, the work is done and now its time for a new tenant! All-in-all, I think I spent about $25k getting it legalized. Not too bad, considering what it might have cost, and I'm certain having it legalized makes the property more valuable!"