File this under the list of things you didn’t know were gone until you needed it. Once upon a time, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services ran the “Get Legal Program” to help property owners permit work that was done on a property without permits. It didn’t matter if it was done by you or a previous owner; the goal was to legalize work that was done to code, not circumvent code and safe building practices.
A July 14th, 2008 blog positing on the BDS website celebrates the fifth anniversary of the program [the site made me log in before I could read it]. All the links to the program within the article are dead. The recording on the program’s phone number states that the program was “suspended indefinitely” on September 1, 2009. RIP. At the time of the posting, the program was, “currently assisting 26 property owners to legalize work at their properties.”
A subsequent call to the main Bureau line at 503-823-7300 was transferred to the Permit Department voice mail (503-823-7357) where I can expect a return call in 24 to 48 hours. I’ll update this when I get a reply to what the process or best practice is for a property that has unpermitted work. My initial reaction is that if the work is to code you shouldn’t need a formal program to rectify the situation. If it isn’t to code or possible to make the needed improvements to get it to code the program wouldn’t have helped anyways. [Update from returned call: Visit BDS at 1900 SW4th Tuesday through Friday 12-3PM and talk to a Plans Examiner about your specific project. They only take questions during those times. The City does not consider work to have been done until a permit is pulled for it so you go through the same process as if the work is proposed, not completed. The inspection process can be a little more complicated.
As a seller of a property with unpermitted work the best policy is to disclose everything you know and be aware that it could be come an issue in the selling process. There are specific set of questions on the Oregon Property Disclosures that deal exactly with this issue. If unpermitted work becomes an issue in the future, the situation is going to be viewed very differently if it was disclosed or undisclosed.
The entity with jurisdiction over permits (it may be at the city or county level) probably has the ability to order unpermitted work be removed if it can’t be legalized. Each entity is going to have its own process so both buyers and sellers should do their research as to what the ramifications might be.
We recently saw an appraiser call out an unpermitted finished basement. The bank originally wanted it removed (and verified by the appraiser). The bank was satisfied though by counting the space as unfinished in a revised appraisal. The property still appraised to the sales price with the revision.
In another instance we heard that a soon-to-be-ex reported the property owner where their estranged spouse was staying to the county. An accessory dwelling was on the property when it was purchased but now the county is looking into whether they are going to allow it to stay or not. The accessory dwelling and the owner may be collateral damage to a third party dispute.
If you’re a home owner thinking about a project that requires permits take the extra time and expense to get permits. If your the owner of unpermitted work be aware. If you are the buyer, do your due diligence and decide how to proceed.