Friday, December 17, 2010

Of Troy and Building Permits and West Bloomfield

I woke up this morning thinking I will now write about my experience with my bathroom 'repair'.  I wrote about this previously, but then removed the blogs.  Now, I finally have my 'Certificate of Occupancy' in hand, and decided I would tell the tale. 

But first, I go to my mailbox and get my morning Oakland Press to read while I have my coffee (and at the same time shoo three deer out of the yard). 

Headline: Builders sue Troy; allege fee gouging

Oh, really?  Does anyone think they are the only ones? 

During the various building boom eras in the suburbs, building permit revenue was a huge source of cash for communities.  Why do you think the State Construction Code was changed to require that the money received only be used for the costs of running the department issuing the permits and doing the inspections?

Anyway, that is not what I am interested in discussing.  Rather, it is the cost associated with the process and the fact that tax-paying residents trying to maintain their homes are 'ripped-off' by outrageous fees.

Several years ago I needed to replace my hot water heater.  I shopped around and everytime I told the salesman I lived in West Bloomfield, they said that was too bad because West Bloomfield had the highest permit fees. 

This summer, when I hired a handyman to fix up my 38-year old, 34 square foot bathroom (not a misprint, only 34 sf of usable space), he never ever mentioned the need for any permits.  According to the State Construction Code, cabinet replacement, tiling, light fixture replacement and toilet replacement (which we didn't do), do not require permits. 

Imagine my surprise when a township employee called to say that he was told I was 'remodeling' my bathroom and needed to send an inspector over.  I asked why I would need inspections and permits and he said that I would need permits for everything I mentioned above and even threw in the replacement of a shower door.  I told him I would have my handyman speak with him.

Imagine my complete surprise when I was told I would have to pay $590 for permits and inspections.  Apparently, there is a clause that if the repairs exceed $600, you still have to get permits.  Folks, I saw a medicine cabinet that was $1200.  If this is the case, then the communities should just install kiosks in the local Home Depots and collect the money when you walk out the door. 

As it was, my handyman had no idea what I was spending, since I purchased all the materials myself.  He only knew what his fee was, which increased considerably as a result of the township holding things up.  We lost the whole day of the call, while I was paying him to stand around.  And his costs far exceeded material costs.  I had all sorts of free time to shop around for deals on supplies.

My handyman had to submit a drawing of the plan of the room.  Let's see, EVERYTHING is going back where it was!!!  While waiting for approval, my handyman went off to another job and then I had to wait to get him back.

Let me put this in the context of what I pay in taxes to the township general fund this year:  $265.77.  The voted public safety millage I pay is $252.27.  Together, that is less than permits for a 34 square foot bathroom, in a home I have owned and paid taxes on for 38 years.  And the $590 doesn't include the money I had to pay to a separate mechanical contractor.

And what did I get for my money?  A blessing by West Bloomfield that my handyman properly performed the work.  The plumbing permit covered making sure the water wasn't too hot.  The electrical permit - well I am still not sure why we even needed that except to be told that we 'should probably upgrade all the electrical in the house'.  Will do as soon as the township gives me the money to do it.  Oh, they also checked for smoke detectors.  And the mechanical?  Well, I had the handyman vent my bathroom exhaust fan to the outside.  Yes, the township in 1972 allowed the builder to vent fans into the attic.  Luckily, I had no attic damage, probably thanks to the roof vents I had to add myself several years ago (none provided by the builder) and the attic fans that were installed.  It makes me wonder what was being inspected back in 1972.

The State Construction Code is supposed to protect the homeowner from unscrupulous contractors.  It is supposed to insure that work is done properly and 'up to code'.  But who protects the property owner from the local communities who enforce the code and charge ridiculous fees?  It is not hard to see how departments can be padded with employees to justify the higher fee required to pay their salaries and benefits. 

I was on a committee at the State when the Construction Code was changed requiring the use of fees for related expenses only.  I remember another member asking if he only had one building permit would he have to charge the full cost of the department to that permit.  I wondered why you would have a full-time department if you had no building being done. 

With the current economy, many communities should look at privatizing this area.  But, if they are not doing the work, I see no reason to get any money from the process, other than a nominal fee for updating records.  When it is a percentage, that starts to sound more like a 'kick-back' than a fee.  And yes, I feel that this is an unjustified tax.  I felt that way even before I saw the article.  Any fee paid to a community is supposed to fairly represent the value of the service.  $590?  I think not. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear your comments and will try to reply on this blog and visit your blog when available.