I know everyone’s in the throes of the Obama-McCain frenzy, but allow me to divert your attention to a minor ballot initiative in Oregon: Measure 63. Oh it’s fascinating, I assure you.
Measure 63 is the last whimpering gasp of the property rights measures that originated in Oregon. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll remember when I was as obsessed with pay-or-waive as I now am with cap-and-trade.)
Times change. It was just a few years ago when property rights radicals dreamed of essentially putting a stop to growth planning, and even rolling back basic land use restrictions. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that voters like land use laws. Kind of a lot actually. (See here, here, and here.) So the property activists have retreated from grand plans of world domination to petty little schemes that will still manage to annoy neighbors and undermine local governments.
All Measure 63 really does is end requirements for building permits when the improvement value is less than $35,000. It’s not such a big deal maybe, but it’s also kind of silly. For one thing, permits are really the primary means of ensuring that buildings conform to important health and safety codes. And as is so often the case with ballot measures, the language is a bit daft, leaving open several possible loopholes.
Later this month I’ll spend some time analyzing Measure 63 — or at least making fun of it. But I’m just too darn lazy today. Instead, here’s a quick roundup of the little that’s being said about the measure in Oregon…
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Here’s the official “No On 63” campaign’s somewhat spartan website. I’ve been surfing around, but I can’t actually find a “yes” campaign website. (I could scarcely find the “no” site, in fact.)
The Portland Mercury doesn’t like it:
If it passes, you’ll be able to do electrical, structural, or other technical work on your house without getting a permit, if the work costs less than $35,000! Hey, that seems safe.
The Yamhill Valley News-Register says to vote no:
If not tethered by building codes, do-it-yourself renovators have a tendency to take shortcuts. City and county inspections aren’t performed, and “little things” such as plumbing or structural work get covered by sheet rock, fixtures or flooring.
Industries near and dear to the housing industry—real estate brokers, bankers and insurance companies—question the wisdom of the proposed law mainly because of safety concerns. From a risk standpoint, local insurance agents agree the permit threshhold is too high.
The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Education Association, which officially opposes Measure 63, and the Oregon Nurses Association are giving a sizeable chunk of change to Defend Oregon, an organization that is working to defeat four ballot measures this year including Measure 63.
Defend Oregon says:
Measure 63 also endangers firefighters, police, and EMTs, who would face unknown structural risks when responding to emergencies.
The Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon recommends voting no:
Eliminating permit requirements will undermine the planning and public safety systems and deprive local governments of an important revenue source.
The Oregon League of Conservation Voters also favors a “no” vote (and they promise some analysis next week).
Update 9/17: OLCV has added some stuff. They seem rather grumpy about the measure.
Measure 63’s full text, official summary, and fiscal analysis can all be found here.
Anyone who thinks requiring building permits makes homes safe is inexpierenced in home repair. I’ve taken apart many a “nice looking” wall and found something behind (from spliced 2×4’s to undersized wireing to a garden hose used to splice a broken shower pipe)that was put there, and covered up with a nice looking wall. These have been in homes that I’ve purchased over the years. The building inspectors that both the bank and I have hired don’t open walls to see what’s there, they just do a cursery visual inspection. While you may think this argues on the side of permits, it really doesn’t. If a person is willing to do something without a permit, and they know they can get away with it, they will. So whether permits are required or not, this poor work will be done. What we should be spending our energy on is learning how to do this work ourselves, so we can not only spot trouble, but also be confident that we can repair, or remodel our homes safely. When you buy a home, whether it was inspected or not, you are taking a chance that something was added, and or repaired incorrectly, and hidden behind insulation, under the floor, behind sheetrock, etc.And unless the “remodeler” is caught in the act, there will be no way of proving who is actually responsible for the poor work.Roger
So Roger’s logic is that since some folks cheat on their building permits, that such permits have no value. Riiiight. Last time I did work requiring a building permit, I had to have an open-wall inspection before I could go forward.I don’t want to be buying a house in Oregon where the previous owner may have done half-assed repairs that did not even have the imperfect safety net of a permit and inspection. I see this measure ultimately as undermining the housing market. Why would a bank lend or an insurer insure a house that may have had substandard repairs done on it? This is a dumb measure, anti-capitalist, bone-headed.
I work in construction, and I can assure you, Roger, that requiring building permits does have value to you, especially when someone has done unauthorized, uninspected work. Furthermore, there is a huge public interest – beyond local building departments’ bottom lines – in requiring permits for all structural and system work done on a house. The value lies in the fact that if a previous owner undertakes these tasks without permit and does shoddy, uninspected work (eg spliced framing, underguage wiring, fubar plumbing) they can be held liable in court by the new owner. As soon as you no longer require these inspections, any purchaser of a used home is at the mercy of the unscrupulous /name withhelds/ who previously undertook <$35k renovation. There is no legal recourse. Unpermitted, uninspected, sub-par construction is actionable as long as it was illegal. Take that protection away from the public and you not only endanger every home-buyer, but you endanger the livelihoods of all legitimate contractors out there.This initiative is quite possibly the worst idea ever conceived.
Of course this is a *bad* measure. After all it “…deprive local governments of an important revenue source.” say the good ministers above. Isn’t that what it’s really all about anyway, revenue? Here’s an idea: private certification. Want your house to bring a higher price at sale? Pay for and provide to seller a certification obtained from an independent inspector. Not willing to pay for that? Then disclose that at sale and expect a lower price. That’s letting the market remedy the problem and keeps the government out of it. And, please, I don’t need an phoney baloney warnings from so-called ethical contractors telling me how only they as professionals should perform home repairs. The last house I bought, built by a *professional* and inspected by the government had wiring so screwed up it had to be redone, just so the toaster wouldn’t pop the circuit breakers when the microwave was running (Note to professional: they’re supposed to be on separate circuits. Oh, and I did the repair myself…without a permit. Keep it a secret.)The idea of government creating laws to increase revenue is, well, just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard….all day. This anti-63 sentiment is just one more indicator that today’s so-called men are unable to be self-sufficient. They can’t fix a burned out light bulb without instructions and as a result are a detriment to themselves and family. Society is circling the drain and no amount of regulation will bail us out. ~BS
The idea that structures constructed under a building permit (and thus via the building code) is safe makes me laugh! Ask any fire-fighter you know who has been in the business for at least two & a half decades if they are safer fighting fires now than they were then. Ask them if the code allowable truss joiners (gusset plates), gives them (or the home occupants) more or less time before the structure becomes compromised? Ask them if they any longer have the ability (as they used to be) to salvage (by placing home contents in a pile and covering with tarps) home contents during a fire? Then ask them why or why not?The IBC PERMITS unsafe or at least LESS safe construction to occur, as a rule, then in the past.People who are familiar with the building code know that a home constructed to the IBC minimum would be SUB-STANDARD living. Do we really think that that subdivision that went from orchard to fully occupied in 1 1/2 years was constructed to a standard HIGHER then the IBC minimum? As if!The one thing this ballot measure does do, is it allows people who own their home and are looking to add a little extra space (as $35k won’t allow for a HUGE addition/alteration) or roof a patio that exceeds 200 square feet, to do so without the burden of additional cost associated with a building permit. These are people who are going to continue to live in these homes and therefore have a HUGE interest in assuring that the construction is safe and solid. For those of us who are responsible and either, get a permit or – because of the additional permitting cost – choose not to do the addition/alteration would be benefitted by this ballot measure.For those who wouldn’t get a permit anyway this ballot measure will have no effect on them one way or the other. Case-in-point, I have relatives who actively seeks out contractors who don’t get permits – and they are NEVER lacking multiple contractors to bid on their jobs!There are already times that building permits are not required. The lack of need for a building permit does not absolve one of the need or requirement to construct to the minimum standard of the building code. Neither would BM63 absolve one of that requirement. What this ballot measure is, is a baby step toward people taking responsibility for their actions and to stop passing that obligation off to someone else, especially the government.
As a home owner that has remodeled I want to add that permiting a project can actually compromise the structural integrity of a building. In order to meet the specifications for a recent garage project we were doing, we actually had to cut a concreted post off and replace it with a lag bolted plate. The inspector and building city official both agreed with me that it was less stable but that it was more important that it was “code”. The process is incredibly time-consuming and ridiculous. Each official tells you slightly different things they want adjusted on your plans while your wood is rotting and the rainy season is quickly approaching. My recent garage project cost me $1100.00 in materials and $980.00 for a permit and a 30 day delay for the processing and inspections. The increased value of my house hardly makes the investment and hassle worth it.Also consider natural building materials. Despite the numerous examples through Portland and historically documented examples of the integrity and value of cob, straw-bail, adobe, and various alternative eco-friendly materials, there are still many places in Oregon where there are no permitable uses for these substances. To be able to utilize these materials for smaller projects by cutting out the negating permit factor greatly increases our freedoms as home owners.
BMSIm sorry but you are full of it. We have minimum codes in Oregon that are required to be met. when you ” actually had to cut a concreted post off and replace it with a lag bolted plate” you had an option, that was prove that it works or conform to perscriptive code. People like you are exactly why we need building permits. Un-informed and not willing to look into something before you do it. In Oregon you can build a house out of tires, coke bottles or just about anything else you want to. You will have to hire an engineer to prove that it will work and meet codes, can you imagine that. Your numbers don’t make any sence either. Quit telling lies and gets your fact straight. I think your last paragrph really summed it up……. Damn tree hugger.
I’d like to share a little bit of history with all of you. The uniform building code was first established as a national standard for safe construction practices in the year 1990. Today is is formally called the International Building code. This was only 20 years ago. Those who wrote such codes cannot go back in time and correct shoddy workmanship by those licensed and unlicensed, but they can ensure the health, safety, and welfare of everyone for years to come. We need our inspectors.The bill is horribly written. There is no provision for how work done by homeowners is to be disclosed at the time of sale. If you think the records department has incomplete or missing information on buildings now, imagine what you will get as a prospective buyer. Permits are on record, free to view for the public. It is how we know what work was done and when.Also, the only trade professional referred to in the measure is electricians. What about plumbers, carpenters, hvac specialists, and contractors? All have very specific knowledge regarding rough-ins, blocking, and installations not known to the average person.We can’t undo a law because Bill Sizemore got and idea while in the Home Depot parking lot and applied an arbitrary, nominal amount.
ok so what about the home buyer who buys a house that has had a little modification 3 years after the purchase your neighbor gets mad at you and turns your house in for not having permits pulled on it because he had been friends with the Previous owners.Well the inspector then comes to your house and says you are now responsible to purchase the permits runs you thru hops to get it passed Really it seems to me all they wanted was to make sure they recieved the 500.00 bucks.They were not to concerned about the modifications.
63 is the only piece of legislature I’ve ever seen that thoroughly embodies the DIY aesthetic. It’s awesome. I think that Bill Sizemore might be punk rock. Who knew? A vote of “yes” on 63 is a vote for unlimited possibilities. Architecture students of the world unite!
I agree with Roger and Bob Smith. We also bought a house which was done by a certified Plumber, Electrician, etc. A year later, we found out the septic tank was 9″ higher than the house (sweet) and the electrical line had to be dug up. (He put it in a trench with no covering whatsoever. These are professionals? When my Husband built a storage building years ago he was harassed from the inspector because it was “Over-Kill” “Built too good”. So if this passed does not mean that everyone will do shoddy work. They are already doing it and being certified too.
Even work that is done by permit and inspected properly has flaws. The state county city inspectors will inspect but will take no responsibilty if something does happen with whatever project it is. So house burns down it’s up to you to take the hit not the government agency. That is bull! I think they should have re-written this measure to make it a little more suitable a little more fair going both ways, because lets face it there are lots of small projects that can be done correctly that should not be in need of a permit, and of coarse plenty that should be in full force of them.