Rules that took effect on Monday should have contractors in New Jersey raising the roof, since it’s no longer necessary to purchase a construction permit for roofing or siding jobs on one- and two-family dwellings.
Just in time for spring, the state Department of Community Affairs has reclassified those big-ticket repairs as minor work and ordinary maintenance, and now includes them on its list of home improvement jobs that no longer are subject to inspection.
The change will save contractors the time it takes to go to Borough Hall and apply for the permit. It should save homeowners the cost, which, depending on the size of the siding or roof job, would could be between $200 and $500.
“I believe this is a good thing,” said Jane Eliya, who operates Xpress Construction in Ridgewood. “This way we can concentrate on doing our jobs, instead of having to go to town hall to buy a permit. It’s not so much the cost of the permits, because we bill the homeowner, but the time. And then you have to wait for an inspection.”
Other tasks that no longer require a permit are installing alarm systems, outdoor irrigation, chimney lining, indoor Sheetrock and drywall and the replacement of indoor plumbing fixtures.
While potential loss to municipalities does not appear to be huge, many towns opposed the move at a public hearing that the Community Affairs Department held last November. Opponents argued that eliminating inspections removes a layer of consumer protection.
“Residents look at these fees as a money grab, when in essence these inspections ensure the work is correct and is a check on poor contractors,” said Kevin Boyle, the borough manager in Pompton Lakes, which last fall adopted a resolution that opposed the rule change.
Boyle said it’s impossible to predict how much revenue the borough will lose in 2018, because each year is different. “It’s not like we always have 10 roof permits and so forth,” Boyle wrote in an email exchange. “Ask me again in December.”
The changes seemed to catch many towns by surprise. The DCA informed municipalities only last week that the new rules were about to take effect.
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Manny Jimenez, a contractor who runs AidPro Roofing in Prospect Park, has mixed feelings about the change. He appreciated the fact that fewer rules would save him time, but the permit process also weeds out the legitimate contractors from the other ones, he said.
“If a customer sees that I’m capable of going to town and getting the permit, then it gives the customer more confidence in me that I am legitimate,” he said.
Jeff Fette, the construction code official for the borough of Montvale, said smaller municipalities would likely feel the revenue crunch more than larger ones. Down the line, that could force more municipalities to enter into shared service agreements, he said.
“Municipalities will need to seek new ways to save money and stay under the 2 percent cap they face each cycle,” he said. “This, I believe, is just another step in that direction.”
Typically, a town won’t issue a permit to a contractor unless he shows proof that he is registered with Consumer Affairs, which is required by law. Construction code officials tend to know who the legitimate contractors are.
“We’ve had contractors coming in here for 50 years, and now all of a sudden they don’t need a permit,” said Bob LaCosta, the construction code official in Scotch Plains and the former president of the New Jersey Building Officials Association.
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LaCosta said that without inspections, it will be up to the homeowner to determine whether the job is being done the right way. And mistakes are not always visible to the untrained eye, he said.
Vinyl siding expands and contracts with seasonal changes in temperature, and so it must be hammered on correctly, he said. Sometimes, contractors will fill in the gaps with excessive caulking, or wrongly cover up electrical boxes or dryer vents, LaCosta said.
Roof replacements pose another set of issues. Homeowners are only allowed to add a second layer of shingles. Third roofs are illegal, and it’s been up to the construction code official to enforce that, LaCosta said.