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How to grandfather a room addition

by Ana
(Rosemead California)

(1) Kitchen and 1 bedroom (2) garage (3) enclosed patio

(1) Kitchen and 1 bedroom (2) garage (3) enclosed patio

Visitor Question: I bought my house in 1980. It has 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Recently someone reported to the city that I had people living in my garage.

The Inspector came and told me to change it back to a garage. I had no problem on that. Then he looks at the house. I enclosed a patio without a permit. So he said he will let it go.

Well, now I got a call from the city. They showed me an aerial view of the house and asked if I have permits for the other additions. And I was confused? I bought my house like that. What he is talking about is my (1) kitchen and one of the bedrooms. So I told him that when I bought the house in 1980, that was the original layout.

So my question is can I grandfather that part of (1)kitchen and the 3rd bedroom since I did not know about it? So where do I begin? Or what can I do?

Editors Reply: Well, first of all, you as a homeowner cannot grandfather anything. Grandfathering is an action or permission from the city government to allow a condition that is now illegal to continue as long as no additional changes are made.

As to the remedies for a building permit violation, which would be what this would be called if previous owners made a room addition without a building permit, this varies from city to city. For the ultimate answer, ask your city government.

However, just to help you prepare for that conversation, we will make a few observations. Sometimes cities allow you to submit the plans for the room addition as it is now built and have them approved as to compliance with both zoning and building codes.

This usually involves the expense of having to employ an architect or engineer to measure and describe everything and draw up a plan, just as if it had not already been built.

The problem with this approach in California is that since 1980, no doubt building codes have changed considerably, and some aspect of your room addition might not comply with current building codes.

Another thing that people do is to demolish the room addition that was not permitted, and rebuild. We are quite sure that you wouldn't be excited about doing without a kitchen and bedroom for a while, but that might be where this is headed.

Your approach of being truthful and respectful is the proper one. Nothing good comes out of angry behavior toward inspectors or other city officials. Since you purchased your home this way, if you act reasonably, they are likely to respond respectfully. However, that does not mean at all that they will ignore what they see as the primary responsibility of their jobs, which is to uphold the law.

Ask any friends or neighbors who have experience with your local architects, engineers, and attorneys for recommendations and stories of their experiences. This will help you be prepared in case you find that you are going to need one or more of these professionals to remedy the situation.

Returning to your original question, you can ask the city if they have an internal procedure for grandfathering your room addition or allowing you to apply for a variance of some type. Variances are more likely to apply to zoning than to building codes though. Since the inspector already allowed your garage enclosure to slide by, it is possible that they will help you out further. The city should have access to old aerial photos that will allow you to prove your point that you purchased your home in 1980 with the room addition in question already in place.

These are some thoughts to hold as you prepare for an important conversation with city officials. If you have any doubt at all that the inspector you are speaking with has the ultimate authority over the situation, ask to include his or her supervisor in the conversation as well. I would try for a face-to-face meeting in this situation.

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