No Building Permit

Visitor Question: A residential homeowner and their contractor built a patio roof onto an existing detached garage. And an extension of the patio roof was added to connect to the existing house. The existing garage is not code compliant to begin with, but was there when the house was purchased.

The patio roof and roof extension are new construction done without permits. Both the homeowner and the contractor have big mouths, and they mentioned twice that they were doing it all without permits and that a building permit would likely not be issued because the existing garage is out of code compliance.

I took photos from day one of construction from on the property which I was invited into, though not explicitly given permission to take photos of anything. If I turn the photos over to the township building inspector am I liable for violating the homeowner's privacy? Do I create liability for myself for turning over photos to the building inspector?

I realize the question and situation dovetails into another area of law but thanks for any insight you can provide.

Editors Reply: Thanks for the interesting question.

Since you positioned this question as a zoning question, we are going to assume that the garage is nonconforming to the zoning ordinance as opposed to a property maintenance code. Yes, nonconforming uses cannot be expanded through additions.

The answer depends somewhat on whether this patio-style roof connecting to the house is visible from public property, which in this case would be the road or street. If so, our advice would be to simply tip off the code inspector about what has occurred and let the inspector take his or her own photos and draw conclusions.

If you can see the new roof and passageway from your own property, you are free to invite the inspector onto your own property. Of course if you do this, you have to be prepared for bad relationships with your neighbor since it will be perfectly obvious from the angle of the inspector's camera where the inspector was standing when the photo was taken. Local practice might vary slightly from this, but usually in the U.S., courts uphold the validity of violation photos or evidence collection from a neighboring property. The inspector will know whether this holds true for your location.

Lastly, there is a possibility that this situation is not visible from either public property or a cooperating neighbor's property. In that case you will have to evaluate how aggressive your township is likely to be in pursuing this violation. If the inspector and your township board are going to be livid that no building permit was issued, they might be able to gather the evidence needed through looking at aerial photographs from a time prior to the construction of this roof and then comparing that to more recent photos. These days, nothing is very private so satellite imagery readily viewable on Google Maps could be all that is needed if there is no tree cover.

In sum, then, our advice is that you talk informally with the township building inspector to advise him or her of this condition. Our thought would be not turn over your photos, which could become part of a public record, but you will want to play that by ear as you talk with the inspector. As you suggest, there is a small risk you could make yourself vulnerable to a lawsuit in case the municipal court orders the structure demolished, since you have taken the photos without explicit permission.

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