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View Full Version : Do all cities have screwy zoning/building rules?



Brian Elfert
05-02-2014, 11:51 PM
I'm looking to buy a home in a semi rural city. Many of the older homes have unpaved driveways. I just found out the city requires driveways be paved if a building permit is taken out. I just don't understand why a city with 1 acre minimum lots and no city sewer is trying to force property owners to pave their driveways. It is a semi rural area and not and a suburb with little tiny lots.

I'm looking at buying a home in this city that needs work. The current owners took out a building permit last year and one condition was that they pave the driveway which never happened although they did the work on the permit. The place needs new windows at a minimum and I don't want to be stuck with a $5000 to $10,000 bill to pave the driveway just to replace the windows.

Do other cities have screwy rules like this?

Andrew Joiner
05-03-2014, 4:54 PM
Yes. I built a new house 11 years ago. I paid about $7k in building permit fees. Part of that was a mandatory $2,500 fee for " future parks". My friend just got permits for a house about 10% more expensive than mine. The rates went way up. He had to pay $18K total and the future parks fee is way up as well. Oh, in the the last 11 years we have one new park. It was funded by voluntary contributions. So there's a lot of money sitting in a "future parks" fund I guess.

Brian Elfert
05-03-2014, 5:35 PM
The city I am looking at buying a home in requires park fees to be paid when a piece of land is made into a subdivision. I don't believe that a parks fee has to be paid for each house. The city does have a quite a few parks so I believe they are using the parks fund appropriately.

Building permit fees are a racket. In the state of Minnesota building permit fees are only supposed to cover actual costs the city incurs to approve the plans, make inspections, and so on. Some growing cities were charging permit fees far in excess of costs incurred and using the excess funds to keep property taxes down. They got their hand slapped for doing this. Many cities lost almost all of their permit revenue due to the recession and laid off a lot of building inspectors. Does the city really incur $4,000 in costs when a home is built? Cities will argue that they need the money to pay for new city services to serve all the new residents, but the state says they can't use permit fees to cover these costs.

Rich Engelhardt
05-03-2014, 5:38 PM
I'm looking at buying a home in this city that needs work. The current owners took out a building permit last year and one condition was that they pave the driveway which never happened although they did the work on the permit. The place needs new windows at a minimum and I don't want to be stuck with a $5000 to $10,000 bill to pave the driveway just to replace the windows.


If the owners really did do something wrong and it's not in the disclosures, then they are the ones on the hook for the cost, not you.
Let your real estate agent know that and make sure it's conveyed to the seller's agent.

I'd discount my offer @ that point by $10 to $15k - and let them know why.

If they balk, walk away. Let someone else have the headache.



Re: permits - - IMHO - a necessary evil. I've seen a lot of trash jobs done and not a small number of them were done by so called "pros", that didn't bother with permits.
( or liability or workman's comp either for that matter).
I have a love/hate relationship with permits.

Andrew Joiner
05-03-2014, 6:45 PM
Building permit fees are a racket.

Don't get me started:eek:

When I built my house I thought 'well the permits are expensive,but at least the city inspectors keep the the subcontractors from doing shoddy work'.

If a government agent approves the work it must be safe, right? Because the city could get sued. Then I did some research.

Actually it's almost impossible to win a court case against a building inspector or the municipality for missing something that causes harm.

In my opinion, the #1 reason for inspections is to be sure the improvements get on the property tax rolls. The belief that a city inspection guarantees the work is done right or to code is a myth.

Brian Elfert
05-03-2014, 8:18 PM
If the owners really did do something wrong and it's not in the disclosures, then they are the ones on the hook for the cost, not you.
Let your real estate agent know that and make sure it's conveyed to the seller's agent.

I'd discount my offer @ that point by $10 to $15k - and let them know why.


I think rather than reduce my offer by $10,000 I would ask that they install the driveway the city required when the building permit was issued. The value of the house would go up with a paved driveway as long as they can't cheap out on it. Now that you mention it I haven't seen the disclosure. I'll email my agent right now. I have an email in to the city to see if the building permit was ever closed or not.

The current owners bought the house just over a year ago for just over half of what they asking for the property now. They did between $5000 and $7,500 in work to the property. It is not a flip as they did nothing inside the house. My realtor thinks it is overpriced by 20% or more.

I still think it is silly that the city is forcing everyone to have paved driveways. A lot of cities are trying to reduce the amount of impervious surface although a gravel driveway isn't much better in that respect.

Brian Elfert
05-03-2014, 8:22 PM
In my opinion, the #1 reason for inspections is to be sure the improvements get on the property tax rolls. The belief that a city inspection guarantees the work is done right or to code is a myth.

I had an electrical inspector come do a rough-in inspection for electrical work I did in four rooms. His inspection lasted less than 60 seconds including signing off. He walked into the area, glanced around once or twice, said it looks like you know what you are doing, and signed the paperwork. He spent more time getting out of his car and coming inside the house than he spent on the inspection.

Matt Meiser
05-03-2014, 10:17 PM
The city of Toledo made it against the law to park a vehicle on an unpaved surface. The previous mayor had people out ticketing people who had unpaved driveways, many for decades before the law. Kind of came to a screeching halt when the newspaper let everyone know that the city was parking city vehicles on gravel lots in several places.

Jim Koepke
05-04-2014, 12:33 AM
Local governments have requirements that may seem strange but someone, somewhere felt they were a good idea.

One I heard about in rural counties of California on new residential building required driveways to either have a loop or a tee with turning radius big enough for a 60 foot fire fighting vehicle to negotiate a U-turn. Sounds odd until there is a wild fire in the area.

On individual properties on minimum one acre lots your paving requirement may have something to do with law enforcement or fire fighter access.

jtk

Andrew Joiner
05-04-2014, 1:06 AM
I still think it is silly that the city is forcing everyone to have paved driveways. A lot of cities are trying to reduce the amount of impervious surface although a gravel driveway isn't much better in that respect.
I live on a dead end gravel street .There's existing houses nearby that have gravel driveways. However the city required me to pave my driveway. They say it's to keep dust down. Of course the property taxes go up for every square foot of pavement you have.

I designed my house to keep the property taxes low and so far I've had good luck. My small concrete drive way is worth the slight extra tax to me now, but it's a silly requirement.

Brian Elfert
05-04-2014, 1:20 AM
Some places have really screwy rules on property taxes. I've heard of people doing strange things with houses to avoid increases in property taxes. Here in Minnesota the property tax rules are pretty straight forward. The house is supposed to be assessed at current market value and property taxes are based on that. It doesn't matter how many bedrooms or any of the other screwy rules in some areas.

A paved driveway should increase the value of the house so I guess property taxes might go up. My home that I have sold has property taxes of $4,800 this year. Houses I am looking at buying mostly have property taxes under $2,000 a year.

Matt Meiser
05-04-2014, 9:17 AM
My home that I have sold has property taxes of $4,800 this year.

Congratulations on the sale!

Andrew Joiner
05-04-2014, 11:29 AM
Before I designed the building we live in I asked my tax assessors what they base the market value on. One assessor said it was the first time anyone's asked that. Basically the more it costs to build in labor and materials the higher the tax. They charge you more if you have a view or waterfront.

I designed a dream home for us without compromise. However knowing the tax rules helped. It was a fun challenge to use creativity to get around the rules and keep my money out of the tax assessors hands every year.
It's an extremely modern open plan house so we weren't bound by traditional design ideas.

Some things I did to save on taxes and have creative freedom:
Cabinets, lofts, and all rooms but the bathroom are unattached. The rooms are built like huge cabinets. The lofts are big platforms on legs. No one but the tax assessor can tell, they look built in like any modern architecture. We use mostly lamps ,not installed light fixtures.

After we built I found this book at the library. A great read and we used a lot of his ideas.


http://www.amazon.com/Your-Low-Tax-Dream-House-Ownership/dp/0942679075 (http://www.amazon.com/Your-Low-Tax-Dream-House-Ownership/dp/0942679075)

Jessica Pierce-LaRose
05-04-2014, 11:45 AM
It's an extremely modern open plan house so we weren't bound by traditional design ideas.

Some things I did to save on taxes and have creative freedom:
Cabinets, lofts, and all rooms but the bathroom are unattached. The rooms are built like huge cabinets. The lofts are big platforms on legs. No one but the tax assessor can tell, they look built in like any modern architecture. We use mostly lamps ,not installed light fixtures.
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That sounds really interesting, Andrew, love to see something like that! So the house is like a giant space, and the rooms sort of exist inside of that? And thus they don't count as "rooms" for the tax purposes? Do the "walls" of the rooms go all the way to the ceiling, or do you have an open space above the rooms?

Jessica Pierce-LaRose
05-04-2014, 11:54 AM
I find the start of this thread funny, because a lot of places in our state, they charge you more for paved areas, because it contributes to runoff into the watershed; in my town, by not having paved areas, you actually end up using less coverage in the zoning calculator, allowing you to like, put a shed or an addition somewhere.

The city is actually trying to get folks to install "watershed friendly" driveways, either using permeable materials, or weird grid systems or pavers or something:

http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/sites/default/files/DPW/Stormwater/Driveways/SW%20Friendly%20Driveways_web_v2.pdf
http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Stormwater-Friendly-Driveways

Zoning laws are really wacky here in Burlington, although they're getting better. For a while, the worst part was the rules around historic properties, which limited what you could do to the point of silliness sometimes, and often conflicted with what other zoning departments. One person was told he needed to use a specific type of siding on their house by the historic preservation folks, and then zoning told him he needed to use another kind (of basically visually indistinguishable siding) on the part of the house only a few feet from the next residence for fire safety concerns, and he was stuck in a weird catch-22 limbo. It seems like in the last few years they've really cleaned this up, from what I hear, though.

Brian Elfert
05-04-2014, 12:18 PM
Some things I did to save on taxes and have creative freedom:
Cabinets, lofts, and all rooms but the bathroom are unattached. The rooms are built like huge cabinets. The lofts are big platforms on legs. No one but the tax assessor can tell, they look built in like any modern architecture. We use mostly lamps ,not installed light fixtures.


If the property taxes are based on labor and materials wouldn't it cost a lot to build the house the way you did? We don't have to play those games in Minnesota since property taxes are based on what the house should sell for on the open market. The assessors are not always right on the market value so people will have their house appraised if the assessed value is far enough off. What I sold my house for was about $10,000 off from the assessed value.

Andrew Joiner
05-04-2014, 1:31 PM
If the property taxes are based on labor and materials wouldn't it cost a lot to build the house the way you did?
The property taxes are based on ATTACHED items. Screw a cabinet to wall it's taxed,if it sits on the floor it's furniture. No my house didn't cost any more to build the way I did. It probably cost less than a conventional design. The design's took time but it's fun and I'm retired.

Andrew Joiner
05-04-2014, 1:42 PM
That sounds really interesting, Andrew, love to see something like that! So the house is like a giant space, and the rooms sort of exist inside of that? And thus they don't count as "rooms" for the tax purposes? Do the "walls" of the rooms go all the way to the ceiling, or do you have an open space above the rooms?
Yup. The ceilings are 29' high so none of "rooms"go to the ceiling so far. They could in the future if I build a 3rd story loft. The "rooms" are cubes with there own ceilings, the ceiling is the floor for the 2nd story lofts.
The other great part is we can build rooms and lofts when and if we want them WITHOUT PERMITS! We only had one dressing room/closet at first. Then as grand-kids came we added bed room/cubes.

Brian Elfert
05-04-2014, 1:53 PM
The property taxes are based on ATTACHED items. Screw a cabinet to wall it's taxed,if it sits on the floor it's furniture. No my house didn't cost any more to build the way I did. It probably cost less than a conventional design. The design's took time but it's fun and I'm retired.

Oregon seems to do property taxes differently than Minnesota. If say my kitchen cabinets were not attached I suspect they would still add to the market value and get taxed. It would be unusual for someone to take kitchen cabinets with when they move so the assessor would consider them part of the property.

So it sounds like you house is basically just a giant shell with no attached interior walls. I thought maybe it was made of modules that each had their own exterior. It would be interesting to see some pictures. I'm not sure how practical it would be except for reducing property taxes in your specific case. The no permit thing wouldn't fly here. Legally, if you do anything beyond repainting, or replacing a plumbing/lighting fixture it needs a permit. Technically, even replacing a fixture is probably supposed to have a plumbing or electrical permit.

Mel Fulks
05-04-2014, 2:20 PM
Brian,you reminded us of another option. In Europe free standing cabinets are widely used,and go with the owner when they move.

Brian Ashton
05-04-2014, 2:42 PM
Don't get me started:eek:

When I built my house I thought 'well the permits are expensive,but at least the city inspectors keep the the subcontractors from doing shoddy work'.

If a government agent approves the work it must be safe, right? Because the city could get sued. Then I did some research.

Actually it's almost impossible to win a court case against a building inspector or the municipality for missing something that causes harm.

In my opinion, the #1 reason for inspections is to be sure the improvements get on the property tax rolls. The belief that a city inspection guarantees the work is done right or to code is a myth.

Try living in a country where the inspectors are hired by the builder. You want to see blatantly shoddy workmanship go to queensland.