Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach looking for fix to expired permits that may prevent home sale

Expired permit may mean work is not safe
Posted at 4:03 PM, Jun 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 20:11:31-04

The memories come back in a flash when Loretta Moses walks around her family home.

"Those two storms were back to back," Moses said as she remembers the hurricanes more than a decade ago.

She remembers the roof coming off her mother's home.

Moses helped her mom hire a contractor and pay for the work.

"It's been so many years now," explained Moses.

So much time has passed, her mom passed. Moses now manages the property.

"I thought it was taken care of. I didn't know it until last year," explained Moses.

That's when the City of West Palm Beach told Moses, Master Contractors' work never passed a final inspection.

"When you found out the permit was still open what did you think?" NewsChannel 5 Consumer Watchdog Jenn Strathman asked.

"I was like, 'for what? What was done? When was it done? If anything, do you have the right address?' They say, 'yes we do have the right address,' " Moses recalled.

In the last 11 years, the Consumer Watchdog found 15,000 permits expired in West Palm Beach. The city says that's about 8% of its permits.

"It's a problem for the homeowner because it will sit expired until the homeowner tries to sell their property, and then it shows up on a title search," explained Robert Brown, A West Palm Beach building official.

Plus, the work may not be up to code which means it may not be safe.

"We don't have the resources to follow up," explained Brown.

West Palm Beach is looking at new software that will automatically warn homeowners and contractors when permits expire, but Palm Beach County already sends notices and they say expired permits are still a problem.

The county is now disciplining the worst offenders, and both agencies are urging homeowners to take action.

"Not paying a contractor until a final inspection is the best leverage the building owner has," Brown said.

Ultimately, the homeowner is the one who may be harmed by the permit. You may not be able to sell your house or the work may not be up to code.

A decade after paying up, Master Contractors, reopened the permit. However, they let that one expire too after failing more inspections.

"It is not typical for us to do 12 inspections for a roofing permit," explained Brown.

Master Contractors told me it would work on the permit. Weeks later we went to their office to follow up. Two days after our visit, the company sent the city a letter telling them the work is done right.

The city says it has to take the contractor on its word and close the permit.

"When a contractor fails to schedule inspections for us to see the in progress work prior to them covering the sheathing and tin tags, we can accept photographs of the work.  In cases where the contractor does not have photographs, we have to decide whether to accept a certification letter, such as this one, from a licensed contractor.  We accept such letters in cases where the roof is covered up and there are no obvious defects to justify making the contractor/owner tear the roof off and start over," explained Brown.

Moses is now having another contractor look at her roof to ensure the work is proper. She hasn't had any leaks, but wants to be safe.

"You have to pay more attention to what's going on," Moses said.

Master Contractors said in a statement, "We appreciate that it was brought to our attention that there was a permit open at this address. The roof permit was left open by mistake. All the work was done to code and according to standard construction practices. The roof was checked  by our staff, and the shingle roof was in good condition. The permit was reopened and is now closed. We take pride on our work and quality and stand behind our work. The roof had a prior inspection for the sheathing and the tin tag inspection was given an affidavit which is standard practice. The final was then called in to close the permit."

It's easy to search to check the status of work done at your home. Click here to search permits in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, St. Lucie County, and Martin County.