Risks of Buying a Home Without Building Codes

A survey of home buyers found that nine out of ten prefer a house built to code. Building codes include cost-effective measures such as energy efficiency, as well as safety-conscious rules like load-bearing ratings required for roofs in snowy places. By and large, building code saves homeowners money and keeps people safe. Buyers should be wary of homes remodelled without permits. Unpermitted work is often not covered by homeowner’s insurance and could be a problem when the home is sold.

Minor Issues

If a house you’re interested in doesn’t meet current building codes, it doesn’t mean it’s a deal breaker. Many violations are minor and don’t affect safety. For example, if an inspector finds the toilet too close to the wall or the vanity isn’t properly supported, you can negotiate with the seller to fix those issues before closing. On the other hand, serious violations could cause a lender to decline your mortgage application or make you unable to get title insurance. Sometimes, the seller might need to tear down walls or do other major renovations by experts to bring the property up to code or restore bad electrical lines. This can be costly, so you’ll want to weigh your options carefully.

If you can’t agree with the seller on these repairs, you may walk away from the purchase altogether. It’s far better to be proactive in these situations so you’re not calling a restoration company like Valley DRC to clean up after a fire, flood, or other issues that weren’t caught or handled.

Major Issues

Some major issues that could arise from a lack of building codes include structural damage, fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning. These issues may be extremely dangerous for building residents and are easily preventable with updated code compliance.

Building codes set standards that ensure health, safety and basic comfort; a structure’s ability to withstand storms or earthquakes; a home’s structural integrity; accessibility; and practical levels of energy efficiency. They’re based on consensus in a national forum, considering the views of a wide range of interested parties.

Having up-to-date building codes promotes local economic development. The longer it takes to update regulations, the less incentive American building component manufacturers have to innovate and keep up with international competitors. This can lead to European or other foreign suppliers gaining an advantage in the U.S. market and displacing domestically made products. Current statewide building codes also save insurance companies money and reduce the need for disaster relief payments to homeowners.

Unpermitted Additions

In a hot seller’s market, buyers are often willing to waive inspection and appraisal contingencies and offer the above asking, which can lead to some hiccups in the home-buying process. Sometimes, these hiccups can be as serious as discovering unpermitted work.

Anything that alters the house’s electrical and plumbing systems or structure requires a permit, from adding a room to turning a garage into a living space. When homeowners skip out on permits, they can find themselves in trouble with future buyers who won’t want to deal with potential issues and lenders who may decline to finance the property if it isn’t up to code.

When owners try to sell a home with unpermitted additions, they can often get caught off guard by the cost of rectifying these issues and the time it will take. This can halt the sale, potentially result in legal matters and require the owner to tear down the addition.


There are some counties where building codes are not enforced and somewhere they are. Even in counties with enforceable regulations, there are often exemptions for older buildings. This is usually due to grandfathering but could also result from how close buildings can be built to property lines.

Building codes are designed to protect residents’ health, safety and welfare. Failure to comply puts a jurisdiction at a disadvantage regarding economic development, investment and jobs.

If you’re considering buying a home with unpermitted work, get a thorough home inspection. Home inspectors can uncover a variety of red flags, including open permits and unpermitted work. We touched on this above, but issues with a house lead to a situation where you can also ask the seller to correct any issues found or for a discount on the home price. Some changes may be simple, while others can take weeks or months to “close out” permits and bring work up to code.