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Monday, June 15, 2015

Building Permits Required for Small Projects in Portsmouth

"The city is embarking on a zero tolerance policy toward un-permitted construction within the city limits. Building permits are required to insure the construction performed is up to the applicable building codes and projects started or completed without a building permit are subject to remediation including, but not limited to, tear down.

"A fee, based on the size of the job, is collected to cover the cost of the application, the review and the inspection process. On-site inspections will be required to make certain the work conforms to the permit, building codes and plans. The city engineer will let you know approximately how many inspections may be needed for your project."

(Frank Lewis. "City reiterates permit requirement." Portsmouth Daily Times. June 13, 2015)

The city manager and the city engineer say projects such as these require a permit:

* New buildings, additions such as bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, etc.,
* Residential work such as decks, garages, fences, fireplaces, pools, water heaters and more,
* Renovations which include garage conversions, basement furnishings, kitchen expansions, re-roofing, electrical systems, plumbing systems and HVAC systems.

You need to understand that even when you hire a respected, licensed and insured contractor, you are still required to obtain and pay for a building permit. This was a vital part of the permit requirement missing in the Daily Times report.

I recently had two spans of guttering replaced at my house by a trusted, licensed firm with insurance. I was shocked to find out I was required to get a building permit for this small improvement. I went to the city engineer's office and got the permit for the small project that was later completed in about an hour. The permit cost me $25.00, or about one-eighteenth of the entire cost of the repair.

I found out that something as minor as replacing a screen door is considered a renovation requiring a permit. Of course, hundreds and hundreds of city residents consistently do such work without acquiring a work permit. So, I have learned if you do so, you put yourself in jeopardy of paying fines or having your costly project torn down.

In addition, anyone you pay -- even a small, token fee -- to help you do a home improvement is considered a contractor. That includes offspring, relatives, or friends. And, all licensed contractors must be on the city's list of approved workers, or they cannot assist. Once, as I dutifully requested a building permit for a major project and truthfully admitted I was paying some friends to help, I was threatened with huge fines because the friends helping me were not licensed contractors, yet the city considered them so.

Now, I understand the need for obtaining a building permit for a substantial addition or improvement. That insures that all the local codes are followed perfectly and that a contractor does a thorough, good job. I have always obtained a permit for major work. I strongly believe that in such cases a building permit is needed.

What I do not understand is how city homeowners now seem to be penalized with building permit fees for making simple home improvements that not only raise the worth of their property but also beautify their Portsmouth neighborhoods and, in many cases, help protect the general public. It is a requirement that hasn't been followed by the vast majority, and I believe it is a requirement that will never be effectively enforced as written.

Why the sudden interest in pushing a zero tolerance policy toward un-permitted construction within the city limits? We are constantly reminded of how the coffers are empty and the city will "go under" without taxes and public assistance. Oh, we residents don't want that. But, are we, in effect, criminalizing simple construction done by caring citizens who hire competent companies or who perform their own residential work by requiring them to get building permits for nearly everything done or suffer the consequences?

I wonder how many old, derelict buildings and houses in town owned by those who don't care enough to make improvements presently stand as testaments to safety and health violations. Perhaps, these unmindful owners should be the first people the city requires to take necessary steps to work on their property and to acquire building permits. I believe that enforcement would do much more to increase city pride of ownership as well as to enhance the environment than making people get a permit for simple work.

Part of the uncomfortable feeling of living in Portsmouth these days stems directly from "things held over your head." The atmosphere in city hall is cold (and, quite frankly, in need of upkeep), and the viewpoints from those within always seem to be pointed without need for acceptable explanation.

This is a very small town of approximately 20,000 inhabitants. It seems to me that many times instead of communication efforts that would make residents feel togetherness and encourage a sense of mutual progress, the hall pushes back its own population. Many others have told me the same thing. Respect requires mutual respect, no matter the opinion of those opposed to certain measures in place. I pray for equality of justice, not for a chosen few but for all.

As a last thought, I realize many people work for the city and live in the county where they are not bound by these stringent regulations. Perhaps if all city workers had a taste of living within the city limits, some might commiserate with those who feel justified in voicing their displeasure with inequality here. I love my town. I am not moving. I must try to work for change.

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