QDEAR BARRY: The house I'm buying includes a 1,500-square-foot living area that was completed several years after the house was built. It was originally rough-framed, but the finish work and electrical wiring were installed after the house was approved for occupancy. All work was performed by licensed contractors, but there were no building permits or inspections. The general contractor and electrician appear to have informed the seller that no permits were required because no square footage was added to the structure. Is this work really exempt from permit requirements, and could the lack of code enforcement cause future problems? -- Rick

ADEAR RICK: The seller has been misinformed regarding the need for a building permit. All building codes require permits for projects as significant as the completion of additional living space, and permits are required in particular for significant electrical work.

The International Building Code, for example, states that "any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit." That wording clearly does not leave much room for exclusions or interpretations.

Your municipality may use a code other than the International Building Code, but all building codes used in America contain similar wording. For example, the Uniform Building Code states that "no building or structure regulated by this code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has first been obtained from the building official." Exceptions in the code include works not exceeding 120 square feet in area, unless electrical, plumbing or mechanical work is included.

The seller and his contractors should apply for after-the-fact building permits and should execute whatever changes are necessary to satisfy the requirements of the local building department.

DEAR BARRY: Whenever my air conditioner is running, I can hear a dripping sound when I sit in the living room. I've checked for leaks everywhere, including under the house, but can't find any moisture. What could be causing this problem? -- Barbara

DEAR BARBARA: The dripping you hear is probably faulty condensate drainage in your air conditioner. This is not a major defect and can usually be remedied simply and at moderate expense.

The inside of your air conditioner is essentially a refrigerator. Airborne water vapor condenses on the cold surfaces within the system, just as water droplets form on the outside of a cold glass. This moisture drips into a pan where it is conveyed out of the building by way of a condensate drainpipe. If there is any restriction in this pipe, the water will drip into an overflow pan at the base of the air conditioner. That is the most likely source of the dripping sound you hear. A secondary drainpipe is probably needed to ensure drainage to the exterior. These conditions should be evaluated and corrected by a licensed air-conditioning contractor.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

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