20 Common Ways to Spot If Your Contractor isn’t Complying with Building Codes

Most remodeling projects require adherence to building codes. You do not have to know the codes, but your contractor does. Before you commit to a contractor, make sure you know the main signs that he does not plan to adhere to your city’s codes. Various construction-savvy blogs and websites offer the best hints to tip you off that your contractor is not following the rules.

Before You Choose a Contractor

Rushing into a new project will likely not get you the results you want. Consider these hints that your contractor does not plan to follow building codes. If you sense any of these occurring, it is time to find a new contractor before the project begins.

  1. You are using a contractor who is unlicensed: Though there may be some good contractors who lack a license, they are still not usually familiar with building codes. Those who do have a license have to know the codes, pull permits, and obtain inspections, so you can be more confident that your project will adhere to the right codes.
  2. Your contractor refuses to give you insurance policy or license numbers to verify: Perhaps you have asked the contractor whether they are licensed and covered by an insurance policy, and they have said yes. There is nothing wrong with requesting proof in the form of the actual license and policy, or at least some numbers that you can verify. Most licensed contractors who are required to know the building codes are happy to offer customers proof of their professionalism, so be suspicious if this does not occur.
  3. Your contractor does not provide a detailed quote: Some contractors want to avoid making it obvious that they are not pulling permits or complying with building codes, so they refuse to supply you with a detailed quote. On the other hand, they might offer you a written quote that does not include a space for the permit fees. Pulling permits typically costs money, and most projects require this move, so a contractor who does not charge you for it should look suspicious.
  4. Your contractor offers a quote that is much lower than most others : There is nothing wrong with comparison shopping and going with the lowest price, but if a quote seems suspiciously low, there may be a problem. Your contractor might be planning to save money by bypassing typical requirements that take time or money, such as pulling permits and checking the applicable building codes. Be wary of prices that seem much too low for the job at hand.
  5. Your contractor’s past customers have complaints: If you want to make sure you will not be stuck with a project that needs to be torn down due to noncompliance with building codes, you should find out from past customers whether this has ever happened to them. Clearly, if a few of them have had to make changes to their home projects, the contractor did not do his job by checking on codes. Avoid wasting your time and money on this type of contractor.
  6. Reviews on the contractor are not favorable: You can look online for reviews regarding your contractor if you are not able to contact their prior customers. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to find out if any major complaints have been made. Customers who have had problems with the contractor not complying with building codes are likely to leave negative feedback and even take legal action when possible.
  7. The contractor you are considering does not have a business address: You need to be able to get in touch with your contractor should an issue occur during or after the project. Someone without an actual address may be prone to disappear, leaving you to deal with problems like questioning from the city about permits and building codes.
  8. You find out that your contractor is behind on payments for materials: If you opt to do a detailed background check on your potential contractor, you might find out that he has not paid the companies from which he has gotten materials. You can also find out if he is behind on payments to any lenders, such as banks that provided him with a loan. Such a contractor probably will not want to spend money on the necessary permits.
  9. He calls himself a handyman rather than a contractor: There is no way for a handyman to be licensed at the governmental level like a contractor is. Therefore, a handyman would have less access to updated building codes and permits, and could be more likely than most contractors to skip such necessities.

Once the Project Starts

Sometimes you cannot tell much about a contractor until a contract is signed and the project begins. Be wary if the person in charge of the project begins to display the following signs that he is not playing by the rules. Depending on the language in the contact, it might be considered void, allowing you to get any money back and find a new contractor. If not, you will glad that you at least did not pay for the entire project upfront.

  1. Your contractor tells you it’s your job to get permits: If you find out that your contractor does not plan to pull permits or adhere to building codes, and he then insists that you should do it, you should be wary. Typically, this is a job that is best left to the contractor, not the homeowner. Contractors with experience in this arena are likely to get the best prices and take the least amount of time with this process.
  2. The contractor you chose admits to not knowing your city’s code: Knowledge of the building codes is one of the most important details of a project. If they are not followed, you will likely have to get rid of the aspects that do not meet the standard for your city, if not the whole project altogether. Make sure your contractor is committed to learning your city’s codes if he does not know them already.
  3. No plans or drawings are submitted: The typical application for a building permit requires detailed plans or sketches to qualify for one. If your contractor never mentions them or does not show them to you, they might not have any because they are not getting the proper permits. This likely means that they are ignoring other city rules, as well, such as most building codes.
  4. Your contractor does not appear to be updated in this field: If the contractor you chose does not know much about newer methods of construction or updated regulations in general, it is unlikely that he has paid attention to building codes. These get updated often, and you need someone who knows the latest changes in order to avoid having to start the project over.
  5. You have to pay for the bulk of the project upfront: It is abnormal for you to have to pay more than a quarter of the cost upfront. In fact, many contractors charge just ten percent at the beginning of the project, and request the rest as they get it done. If your contractor thinks you might not be satisfied with the job, especially when they do not comply with codes, they might simply take off with your money without completing the project.
  6. Your contractor does not ask for the details about what you want done before starting: Obtaining permits requires detailed plans to be submitted before starting work, and building codes are typically quite specific. If you just glossed over a general idea of what you want and your contractor has already begun work, he might not plan on contacting the city at all to learn the requirements of the projects.
  7. Payment terms are uncertain: If you are left without knowing how much the project is likely to cost, and it has already begun, you should be wary. Contractors who are pulling permits and following city code should make sure that you know the cost of each step, including labor, materials, and permits. They also want to make sure you can pay since they will be spending money on the project right away, so a contractor who takes the deposit and never offers a breakdown of the costs and payment options for the remainder might be planning to take off.

After the Job is Done

You might not notice much out of the ordinary during the project, but once it is complete, you may start seeing issues. Most contractors who are professional will either offer to fix the problems or give you at least some money back, but unfortunately you can’t count on this. Consider some of the ways to tell afterward if the results are not up to par.

  1. You find that the new addition to your home does not have the quality of the rest of the house: Most building codes exist to ensure that contractors do not cut corners and skimp on quality. If you feel that the construction or materials of the project are cheaper than the rest of your house, your contractor might have ignored the building codes.
  2. You notice higher energy costs: If you built a section onto your house, such as an extra room, the energy bills for that area should not be higher than the other rooms in the home. If they are, it could be that your contractor ignored insulation ratings that are required in your city, as well as other rules that would affect how energy-efficient your home is.
  3. He refuses to provide a warranty: The best kind of insurance against a substandard job is a warranty. This way, if something goes wrong with the project, perhaps because the contractor did not follow code restrictions or even the simple standards, he will have to fix it. This might prevent most contractors from ignoring the rules of this industry.
  4. He does not offer you a copy of the lien waiver: At the end of the job, before you pay the final amount, request a written lien waiver from your contractor. This ensures that you are not held responsible for the cost of materials from stores that the contractor has not paid. Most reputable contractors offer this type of waiver to you without you having to ask. One that does not offer it, or does not agree to one, might have cut other corners, as well.