August 21, 2015

For a variety of reasons people add to their homes without applying for a permit.  It’s quite common on the Big Island.  Sometimes it’s not possible to tell, but if the tax records show a two bedroom house with a garage, and there are three bedrooms in the house and no garage, you can pretty well be sure that someone converted the garage to a bedroom without a permit.  If the buyer is getting a bank loan, and the appraiser figures out that a portion of the house was built without permits, he will make a note of it in the appraisal and the bank will deduct the estimated value of that section from the amount they are willing to loan on the property.  If the entire house was built without permits then no bank will loan on it.  In situations like that any sale must be for cash and the unpermitted status of the structure disclosed.

In a seminar I attended recently with the Planning Director, I asked the Director if the County of Hawaii had ever made anybody tear down or remove any unpermitted area of a house, and he said no.  That doesn’t mean in the future the County might change their minds.  He also said, that if the Real Property Tax Office finds out about an unpermitted structure (or area within a structure), they will add the value to your tax bill.  He also said the Tax Office does not pass the information they discover along to the Building Division.

The most common unpermitted addition is an additional kitchen in a guest quarters.  The building code only allows for one kitchen in a single family residence.  So an owner who wants to add a guest quarters with a kitchen, knowing that he can’t get a permit for another kitchen, will build it without permits.  In Hawaii County, what constitutes a “kitchen” is a stove and a full size sink.  If you have kitchen cabinets with a small bar sink, fridge, microwave, hot plate, toaster, coffee maker, blender, etc., but no stove, it’s a “recreation room”.  So some people apply for, and receive, a permit for a guest quarters with a “recreation room”.  Then after the building inspector leaves the final time they add a larger sink and stove.  Any Realtor can tell this was done, and must disclose it in the listing.  Thus you will see “some areas not permitted” in quite a few listings.  Another term used quite often is “non-conforming”.  When the owner wants to sell the house, he will generally be told to move the stove out before the bank’s appraiser arrives.