Grumble, grumble, overregulated, grumble, grumble

Los-Angeles-building-inspection-manMany years ago, we were contemplating building a separate mother-in-law unit on a back part of our property:  one room, a bathroom, a little kitchenette, etc.  There were several reasons why the plan wasn’t feasible, but the major one proved to be the requirement that we had to make the whole thing wheelchair accessible, something that added tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of the plan.  None of us need wheelchairs. And of course, the unit would never be open to the public, unlike a store, so we had no concern that someone needing wheelchair access would have a right to enter the property.

Even if I knew then what I know now, which is that there are times in your life when you wish you could use a wheelchair in your own home, I still wouldn’t have invested tens of thousands of dollars in a relatively small project because of the off chance that, for a month or two, I might prefer getting around with a wheelchair or a walker.  If it subsequently turned out that I would permanently need wheelchair access, then — and only then — would it make sense for me to invest tens of thousands to upgrade the property.  Likewise, if subsequent buyers wanted to make that mother-in-law wheelchair accessible, let them bear the cost.

But nooooo.  Thanks to the bureaucratic who write regulations, and who have an endless desire to control and perfect everything, I was being forced to spend tens of thousands of extra dollars for something useless to me.  The net result was that we built nothing at all.

I raise this bit of ancient history because I’ve once again learned that, because of some remodeling on our property, I have to spend several thousand dollars to comply with safety regulations that confer no benefit on me, my family, nor those who visit our property.  The regulations are inconvenient, expensive, and, as to me, entirely unnecessary — but the entire project must come to a halt if I don’t comply.

There’s nothing that brings out the libertarian in me like a municipal code.

Having had my grouse, let me say that I’m not entirely opposed to building codes and inspectors.  There are definitely things that can and should be standardized for the greater good.  Having standards for plumbing, electricity, weight-bearing, etc., all makes good sense, especially in earthquake country.   A good building inspector can also help protect a homeowner from a bad contractor, and that’s nothing to be sneezed at.  Having mandatory access laws for politically correct reasons, though, is something entirely different.

Also, for those who are familiar with my community, I feel I should say that, when it comes to dealing with my local building department, they are nothing but pleasant:  from the front desk to the back office, they’re polite,  helpful, and responsive.  My gripe isn’t with the my local building department, which is just doing what the law requires it to do.  It is, instead, with the governing principle that says that this kind of micromanagement is acceptable.

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  • JKB

    Yeah, I pay $16 a month + any KW used for a rarely used electrical line into an out building because to take the power off the feed to the house was going to require ripping all the way to at least the breaker box.  We thought we had a solution with a box that could use the mainline out of the meter without modification but the box turned out to be just a bit off in flexibility.  So I have lights and outlets in building but since I’m out there mostly in the day and don’t use a lot of corded equipment there…  On the upside, I’m probably breaking even on the install costs due to the cable runs even with the extra fee paid for the expected low use (offsets some of the power companies cabling costs and 3-yr contract term.  But it annoys me every month since I have to add the two bills together when I write my check.  
    I’m careful not to do any work that requires a permit as well, which means avoiding hiring contractors and big jobs.  

  • lee

    A lot of the permitting and fee requirements in Marin primarily about BANANA* only only (distantly) secondarily about safety, recouping costs for infrastructure support, etc. (I’ve mentioned here that the costs of building a multiunit dwelling is 3 to 4 times per “door” than in the City.)
    “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”

  • lee

    I once listened to a Belvedere resident detail how he sneaked in the installation of some landscape lighting because he was never in a gazillion years going to get a permit. I thought “Here’s a kindred spirit!” But no. He was all for the crazy Marin building requirements, and a BANANA himself. He was a died in the wool Marin liberal who didn’t see the irony/hypocrisy of his whining about his landscape lighting and staunch defense of the onerous building and permitting regulations of Marin/Belvedere.

    • Ymarsakar

      Laws are for little people. He’s one of the elites.

  • Robert Arvanitis
  • jj

    My personal favorite is the law that mandates every house in the state of Washington to have carbon monoxide detectors.  I have to have at least two of them right here in this house.  This house that has a heat pump for heating and cooling, which is: electric.  That has an electric hot water heater.  That has an electric cook top, and electric ovens.  That has an electric dryer.  That has, in other words, not a thing that produces carbon monoxide as a by-product.  Nothing combusts, and CO is by-product of sloppy combustion. The only way for this house to have carbon monoxide in it would be if I ran a pipe from the exhaust of one of the cars into the living room. 
    This is true for 85% of the houses hereabouts.  (The other 15% have a fireplace or wood stove that actually gets used.)  Doesn’t matter: everybody has to buy CO detectors.  If you ever want to sell your house you can’t do it unless the inspector sees CO detectors.  If he doesn’t, he has to note it, and you’;re required to put them in.
    The manufacturers of CO detectors must have paid some set of bribes to Washington politicians!  What a lobby those bastards have! 

  • Charles Martel

    My town mandated in-home CO2 detectors a couple of years ago. Of course I never installed them. Even my yellow dog Democrat wife thought the idea was looney. We’ll probably die here, so the house will go to my son, which means that some nosy inspector will never get the chance to exercise bureaucratic sway in my home.

  • Auditgod

    Our town has lots of building code regs too. We replaced a water heater, had to add a “sediment” filter. the old water heater operated fine without it. cost to install $100, it is a city ordinance. I suspect the city council gets payoff from vendors.  Other useless regs include, air loops for all new dishwashers, requirement to use licensed vendors for all lawn sprinkler work. I live in Texas, and this crap seems to be happening everywhere.

  • lee

    The ones soooooo in love with this regs tend to also be the ones who think we should go back to their romanticized simpler times… WTH.

  • Earl

    @Martel: Please tell me you meant CO detectors!!  They’re not really mandating detectors for that poison that we all breathe out 12x/minute, are they?
    It’s a commentary on the lunacy that has become the land of the free and the home of the brave that I even entertain the possibility that you might have written precisely what you meant!!
    BW:  “A good building inspector can also help protect a homeowner from a bad contractor….”  Yes, this is possible, and probably even happens.  However, I have a relative who is an inspector….and he works for the entity that is paying for the hospital or other large building project.  His job is to make sure that the contractors follow the plans and do not cut corners on either the contracts or the codes…..they can’t trust the government inspectors to catch stuff – whether they’re just too careless or being paid off doesn’t matter.
    When we built our own house (and I mean pouring the concrete, pounding the nails, and lifting the walls into place – yes, we had help with that) we learned that what one inspector passed, the next one could cite and there was no recourse….whatever it cost in time and effort to “fix”, it had to be done.  Inspectors are not infallible, and some are not very smart; so there’s no substitute for knowing what the code requires, or hiring someone who does.

  • Gringo

    My parents bought an old farmhouse when I was 3, and spent the next decade rehabbing it. Every room in the house got a makeover. Some of the work was contracted out: fireplaces installed during the coldest winter in 20 years, a new furnace, a new well, assorted electrical and plumbing work.
    My father did the  carpentry himself. He knew very little about carpentry before he bought the house, but now that owning a house gave him motivation to know  carpentry, he  decided it was now time to   tap the knowledge of   his carpentry-enabled father.  He  built cabinets- some with my grandfather’s assistance. He installed wood floors.  He planed the wood for wood panels, and then installed the wood panels.  With the assistance of  some friends, he installed a second story concrete floor- after spending time adding metal supports to the floor.
    With all of this work, he never needed any permits from the town. It was a different era.
    However, there was one instance where he skirted the law. He poached a small hemlock tree and some mountain laurel from a local forest to plant on our property. I distinctly remember this because I accompanied him in the car for the early morning drive to the forest.