Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Joys Of Homeownership…

So it all started when Kyle and I decided to put ourselves down as “Owner/Builder” on our building permit.

In San Francisco you can hardly pick your nose without a permit and so when our architect told us that the wall we wanted to tear down in our newly acquired condo was structural, we knew that we’d be spending some quality time downtown in the building permit office. On the building permit you have the option of putting your own name on the permit (in which case you are considered an “Owner/Builder”) or you can put down your contractor’s name. According to my architect, it didn’t REALLY matter whose name was put on the permit – especially for a job as small as ours. On the day that we got the permit we were 99.9% sure that we were going to go with a certain contractor, but, as long as it doesn’t matter whose name is on the permit… and as long as we’re not 100% sure… we figured we may as well just put our own names down.

Do you ever have moments in life that you REALLY wish you could do over?

Three days into the construction (which p.s. was only supposed to last 5 days), the building inspector came by the house to inspect the newly torn down wall. Upon inspection, he noticed that the light switch that had previously existed in the middle of the wall had been moved. (Well duh! We tore the wall down and it seems light switches aren’t especially good at hovering in empty space. They’re funny like that.) So the building inspector asks my contractor if we have an electrical permit for the moving of the light switch. And of course we didn’t, because does moving a light switch three feet to the left REALLY count as permit worthy electrical work?? (p.s. both my architect and my contractor thought no… but of course Mr. Building Inspector Man thought yes.) Great. Ok – so we need an electrical permit. How hard should that be, right?

So my contractor calls me up (this is Tuesday morning) and explains the situation to me and informs me that *I* have to get the electrical permit because it’s my name on the building permit as Owner/Builder. Ok. Fine. I can get a permit. So I go downtown to the Department of Building Inspection and I see a sign that says “All permits issued here. Please take a number.” Ok. So I take a number and I wait. And wait and wait. Typical. So then it’s my turn and I say, “Hello! I am here to get an electrical permit.” And the lady says, “Are you a contractor?” and I say, “No – but my name is on the building permit. I’m an Owner/Builder.” “Oh…. So you’re a homeowner?” “Yes!” (That has a nice ring to it, huh?) “Ohhhh… electrical permits for homeowners are issued on the third floor. We can’t help you here.” “WHAT!!?!? But it says ALL PERMITS ISSUED HERE.” “Yes, all permits except for electrical permits issued to homeowners.” (Are you freaking kidding me??? They need some better signage in this place.)

Ugh. Ok, third floor. I can do that.

So I go up to the third floor and say to the lady there, “Hi! I’m here to get an electrical permit! I’m a homeowner!” “Ok, let me just find the necessary paperwork, I’ll be right back.” And with that she disappeared for like 15 minutes. And then she came back to give me a status update that she was still searching for the necessary paperwork… it should be here somewhere… and then she disappeared for another 15 minutes.... Why the necessary paperwork is not stored on her computer for easy printing at the click of a button is BEYOND me. As far as I can tell the SOLE purpose of the office on the third floor is to issue electrical permits to homeowners. But whatever.

So then she FINALLY comes back holding two pieces of paper for me to fill out. (Really – it took you half an hour to find TWO MEASLY pieces of paper?? Ugh.) So she hands me the papers and I start filling them out and then she says, “So, it’s a single family home – right?” “Ummmm, no. It’s a condo. Does that matter?”.... “Ohhhhhh… yeah, we can only issue electrical permits to homeowners of single family homes. Or to contractors. But maybe they can help you on the first floor."


So I go back to the first floor and talk to the information guy there. “Look, buddy, I need an electrical permit… and he starts to point me to the ALL PERMITS line… and I cut him off and tell him that I’m homeowner… and he starts to point me to the third floor… and I cut him off and tell him that I’m a homeowner of a condo… at which point he stops and thinks about it for a minute and then informs me that I cannot get an electrical permit.


“You’ll have to send your contractor in… we can’t issue electrical permits to homeowners of condos.”


“But I’m on the building permit as an Owner/Builder… you issued me building permit! Why can’t you issue me an electrical permit?”

“Sorry, we can only issue electrical permits to contractors.”

“So I can tear a structural wall down but I can’t move a light switch?”


Kill me.

So I call my contractor and tell him that *HE* has to go in. And he says, “I don’t think they’ll give me one with your name on the building permit as Owner/Builder.” So I call the city and ask “Is it ok for my contractor to get an electrical permit for me even though MY NAME is on the building permit?” And they say, “Oh sure, that’s no problem… happens all the time.”

So my contractor goes downtown and waits in line and when it’s finally his turn he asks for the electrical permit. And they look up the building permit and see my name on there and they tell him that yes, they indeed they CAN give him an electrical permit (hooray!!)… BUT not without written consent from the Owner/Builder. (WHAT!!!???? Why didn’t you say that when I called and specifically asked!!??? Besides, don’t the two hours I spent there that morning count as consent??!!)


Ok… so *I* can’t get the permit without my contractor. And *my contractor* can’t get the permit without me…. Hmmm. A-HA! I have a plan. We decide that we’ll BOTH go downtown together. Together we’ll be unstoppable.

So we show up at the Permit office bright and early Wednesday morning at 7:30am and go directly to the third floor to the homeowner office. And they promptly send to the first floor. Ugh. Ok. Fine. But of course, on WEDNESDAYS the first floor has their staff meeting… which lasts until 9:30. So now we have 2 hours to kill. Gaaaah!

So we leave and come back at 9:30 and we take a number and we wait. And FINALLY it’s our turn and we get to the front of the line and I say, “Hi! I’m here for an electrical permit.” And she says, “You'll need to go to the third floor...” (Ha! I knew she’d say that) So I say, “It's a condo.” “Oh, then we’re gonna need to talk to the contractor.” (Ha! I’m prepared for this too!) “THIS gentleman here is my contractor.” (What else you got, lady?) “Well according to the building permit this is an Owner/Builder job – so we’re going to need consent from the owner in the form of letter” (and I swear she was about to say written in blood, on gold paper, notarized by the Pope.) And I say, “Look, I’m the owner/builder, he’s the contractor… this is me giving you my consent to issue the permit to him. I’ll sign any piece of paper you need me to but we are not leaving here without an electrical permit!” And so she locates a consent form (Ha! They have a form for this… we need a letter my a$$!) and I sign it and we start to move forward. (Finally!)

And we get as far as her asking my contractor for his license number. Which he gives her and she types into the system and then she says…. “Ohhhhhh, it says here that he’s a GENERAL contractor.” “And?” “And…. We can’t issue a single ‘specialized’ permit to a general contractor.” “What!?!?!” “Well, if all you need to do is move a light switch, then you really ought to hire an electrician.” BUT WE’RE NOT JUST MOVING A LIGHT SWITCH WE’RE TEARING DOWN A WHOLE WALL!!!!! “Oh, I see, well... Union rules prohibit us from issuing just an electrical permit to a general contractor. Wouldn’t be fair to the electricians. If you were hiring him for multiple jobs… say re-doing your bathroom AND moving your lightswitch… then THAT would be ok. A general contractor can pull multiple permits from different disciplines, but not just a single permit.” “Doesn’t having him TEAR DOWN MY WALL in addition to moving the light switch count as multiple jobs???” “Well… it WOULD have if it was HIS name on the building permit… but since it’s an Owner/Builder permit, it doesn’t count.” GAGHAHHAGHAGHAGHAGH!!!!!!!

“Ok – so what are my options?”

“Well, you can go find an electrician to move your light switch…. Or you can have your contractor pull multiple permits… to get around the Union rules.”

“Soooo.... you want me to pull a FAKE plumbing permit?”

“Or hire an electrician.”

Kill me.

“Fine. I’d like to add a toilet to my living room… please issue my contractor a plumbing permit in addition to the electrical permit.”

“Ok. No problem. Let’s see that’ll be $160 for the electrical permit, which allows you to install up to 10 electrical outlets/light switches/etc. and includes 1 free electrical inspection. And $160 for the plumbing permit.”

And then my contractor pipes in… “Wait – we need two electrical inspections. You always need two. One to see the interior electrical work, and one to see the finished job. We have to have two inspections.”

And the lady says, “No problem. Additional inspections can be purchased for $170 each.”

WHAT!!!??? I can get the permit AND one inspection for $160… but just an inspection for $170. How does that work? And why – if we NEED two inspections do you only include ONE!?!?!?

“Well, for larger jobs we include two free inspections… but for smaller jobs it just includes one. I’m not sure why… but you’re right, it doesn’t make much sense.”

“How large is a ‘larger’ job?”

“Well… 10-20 electrical outlets, for instance, is considered a larger job and so it includes two free inspections.”

“How much does that cost?”


“Ok – so I can install 1 measly outlet and have to pay for the additional inspection and it’ll cost me $160+$170 = $330. *OR* I can install TWENTY outlets and get two inspections included and it’ll cost me $240.”

“That is correct.”


“Fine. In addition to my plumbing permit, I would like a permit to install 20 electrical outlets please instead of just 1.”

“Ok. Here you go.”

And with that she handed me the two permits.

Gah - moving this stupid light switch ended up costing me $400 (!!!!) and two days sitting downtown fighting with morons. On the upside, I can now install a toilet and 20 electrical outlets in my living room if I suddenly feel the need.

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