Ocean City Getting Tough On Permit Violators

OCEAN CITY � The resort is looking to crack down on contractors who start construction work before receiving a building permit is received at City Hall.

The current building code states, �any person who commences any work on a building, structure, electrical, gas, mechanical, or plumbing system before obtaining the necessary permits shall be subject to a fee�that shall be in addition to the required permit fees.�

According to City Engineer Terry McGean, the city has not had a policy for enforcing this clause. As a result, when someone was caught working without a permit, there was really no penalty unless the town chose to issue a municipal citation.

McGean added that the citations were often taken to court with the knowledge that the judge would usually reduce the fine, resulting in the city typically spending more money to go to court over the matter than the fine being sought.

McGean advised the building department to enforce this clause and set an additional fee equal to the permit fee.

If a person or company is caught working without a permit, the project will be issued a stop work order and be advised to apply for a work permit. The cost of the permit will double, due to the fact that the person did not apply for the permit before the work commenced.

If the person is a repeated offender, a municipal citation and fine will also be issued. The building official will not have authority to waive the fee.

Council President Jim Hall questioned how do people know what kind of construction projects require building permits.

McGean replied that the department has a website explaining construction permits. He has also talked to the building official that there will have to be discretion in this situation.

�It is not our goal to penalize the do-it-yourself person that honestly didn�t understand,� McGean said. �What is happening is that we have contractors coming in from out of town that are doing work�and when you�re remodeling a condominium you should know you need a permit.�

Councilman Doug Cymek was concerned over the doubled fee, pointing out that large projects could see an absurd amount of money in penalty.

�We all know we have the traditional violators and this is going to get their attention quickly,� Cymek said.

After McGean suggested capping the penalty fine, Cymek suggested a $500 fee limit. Councilman Brent Ashley did not agree.

�If you�re a contractor, you should know if you need a permit or not,� Ashley said. �My feeling is that if your knowingly violating it [building code] there shouldn�t be any cap.�

Councilman Joe Hall questioned the code in reference to those who are licensed contractors and those who are �Johnny on the spot guys.�

�When you come in to get a permit, we require you furnish us with your license,� McGean explained.

The department has had a couple of issues with this situation. If a contractor does not obtain a permit, then they have to be caught, in that case they would have to hire a licensed contractor. The other issue is those who want to do the work themselves without a license. In that case, a home improvement-contracting license has to be issued through the state.

Councilwoman Mary Knight second Cymek�s motion to place a cap of $500 on the penalty fee and it passed in a vote of 6-1, with Ashley in opposition.

Mayor Rick Meehan expressed interest in knowing whether the enforcement change cuts down on violations and asked McGean to bring forward a report of the activity in about six months.

�We probably get right now, a couple [violations] a day,� McGean said.

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