By Layne Saliba
Photos by David Barnes
As construction picks up, heat rolls in and rain goes away, many homeowners are beginning those remodels or additions to their home they’ve been dreaming of all winter.
In the last year, Hall County has issued 530 permits for residential additions and remodels while the city has issued 188 in just the first four months of 2018.
“The reason for permitting is for safety,” said Joe Davidson, building official for the city of Gainesville. “Our whole job and everything we do is for the safety of the public and individuals.”
Building officials inspect properties to make sure everything is up to code. The wiring has to be done properly and there have to be smoke detectors in the proper places. Windows even have to be large enough so firefighters can get inside in case of an emergency.
Davidson said he likes to give people examples to help them understand when they need a permit. Basically, he said it comes down to moving or adding things in the home. If a homeowner is simply replacing a tub or sink in a bathroom, they don’t need a permit. But if they’re adding an extra sink or moving the toilet, they would need a permit.
“If you’re putting the fixtures back in the same place they were and you have the same amount of fixtures, that would pretty much be cosmetic work and would not require a permit,” said Lamar Carver, Hall County building official.
Still, homeowners and contractors often try to avoid permits because of the hassle and the fee. But Davidson said compared to some other cities near Gainesville, their process is pretty simple. If a homeowner wants to do the work themselves, and they live at the property, they can get the permit and don’t have to hire a contractor. But if a homeowner does want to hire a contractor, the city makes that a simple process, too.
“On residential properties, we don’t require plans,” Davidson said. “(The contractor) would come into our office and we would need basically the address, the square footage of what he’s doing or the scope of the work, and then we’d ask for his licensing information and his business license and he could basically walk out the door with the permit.”
If a homeowner or contractor fails to get a permit for the remodels or additions, not only is it potentially unsafe, there will be a fine. The fine is the same in the city and county. A homeowner would be charged two times the permit fee as a fine and would have to pay the permit fee on top of that to receive the permit. The charges could add up quickly.
“We like to tell people, if they’re thinking about doing some kind of project, please just call us first,” Davidson said. “They can tell me what they’re proposing and over the phone I can say whether you’re fine or you need a permit. We can let them know whether they do or not, right up front. That way they’ll know there’s no kind of violation there and that they’re good to go forward.”
Another reason for homeowners to call the building official for a permit is to make sure any addition to the home doesn’t interfere with something unseen. There are property lines, utility lines and septic tanks — all underground — which Carver said are a frequent problem.
“Sometimes, those are things that really can’t be remedied and sometimes the entire project may need to be torn down,” Carver said. “Even if they find out it’s something that’s not going to work, it’s a whole lot better to know up front and plan that accordingly than to get through with the project and realize it’s something that should have never been done. So it’s really to protect their own investment.”
And it’s meant to protect the investment of homeowners who may purchase the property in the future, too. If work isn’t permitted by the building official, Davidson said those new homeowners can’t be guaranteed the property is safe for them to live in, and Carver agreed.
“I think a lot of people, if they realized the permitting process is for their benefit, it’s to make sure the construction meets the standards,” Carver said. “It is very much in people’s’ best interest to come in (to get a permit).”
City of Gainesville Building Official
Who: Joe Davidson
More info: www.gainesville.org/community-development-department
Hall County Building Official
Who: Lamar Carver
More info: www.hallcounty.org/532/Community-Business-Services