ORLANDO, Fla. – When a contractor replaced the roof on Ebel Saint Louis' home in 2016, the homeowner assumed the job was complete and that county building inspectors had approved the work, but to his surprise, that wasn't the case.
Saint Louis was shocked when News 6 reporter Mike DeForest informed him last week that the roof had failed an inspection while the work was underway.
"This is news to me," said Saint Louis, who was also unaware of county records showing that his roofing permit expired because the contractor never scheduled a final inspection.
When homeowners hire a contractor to do construction or renovation projects, such as replacing a roof, installing windows, swapping out a water heater or hooking up an air conditioning system, the contractor must first obtain the proper permits from the local building department.
Those contractors are also required to schedule an inspection with municipal building inspectors when the work is complete.
As News 6 discovered, contractors sometimes forget or intentionally fail to complete the permitting requirements, leaving homeowners in a bind.
If inspections do not occur within six months of a building permit being issued or six months after a prior inspection, the permit expires and is no longer valid.
Homeowners with expired permits on their property may have trouble selling their house, refinancing or obtaining new permits for other improvement projects.
Many homeowners discover those expired permits when a title company runs a search for outstanding issues during the sale of a property.
"When that search comes up, they realize, 'Oh my gosh, I have an expired permit and I have closing in a week,'" said Aneta Duhigg, the assistant manager for Orange County's Division of Building Safety.
Through a public records request, News 6 obtained a list of homes with expired building permits. DeForest then visited many of those homes to see if the owners knew about the situation.
Every homeowner contacted by News 6 was unaware contractors had failed to fulfill the permitting and inspection requirements.
"I was very surprised," Leah Cawby said.
Records show a roofing permit for Cawby's home expired after no final inspection occurred.
"I bought the house two years ago, and I found out the roof had been replaced in the month before I bought the house," she said. "I'll definitely be looking into it to make sure it won't cause me problems in the future."
Likewise, Hugh Goshop did not know about an expired roof permit until News 6 brought it to his attention.
"We found it strange, because (the contractor) did the job. Then they disappeared," Goshop said.
Records show Goshop hired the same roofing contractor, American Hero Construction, that also allowed Saint Louis' permit to expire without a final inspection.
Representatives from American Hero Construction, which recently underwent a management change, said the company was not aware of those expired permits until contacted by News 6.
The company is now working with Orange County building officials to resolve those outstanding permit issues.
"It's our job to close the permits out, and we're going to do it," owner Robert Phelan said. "Our customers deserve better, and we're going to take care of it."
Orange County building safety officials said expired permits are often the result of busy contractors simply forgetting to schedule inspections.
"In many cases, I myself call the contractors and I say, 'Can you help this homeowner out?'" Duhigg told News 6. "And the answer is always 'Yes.'"
Orange County's Building Safety Division recently began sending email alerts to contractors 30 days before permits expire, a technique that appears to be getting results.
Nearly 2,500 commercial and residential permits expired in 2017, county records show. Only 229 permits expired in the first nine months of 2018, a significant drop that county officials attribute to the new alerts.
The county hopes to reduce those numbers further by eventually sending notifications to contractors and homeowners after permits have expired.
If a contractor refuses to take care of an expired permit or cannot be reached, Duhigg said the homeowner is responsible for ensuring all permitting requirements have been fulfilled.
"I just want to help them," she said. "Every scenario is different, but we have answers to them all."
In many cases, the homeowner will be required to visit their municipality's building division in person and pay for a permit renewal. In Orange County, that fee starts at $38.
The building department will then schedule an inspector to visit the home, often within a day or two of the permit renewal.
"In many cases that I have observed, they pass the final inspection," Duhigg said. "The problem is if the inspection fails. We may ask them to engage a licensed contractor to complete the process."
Depending on the specific situation, it could cost homeowners significant time and money to hire someone to correct any construction deficiencies.
"Our piece of advice for every homeowner is be involved," Duhigg said. "Do not make your final payment (to the contractor) until you see proof that the final inspection has been completed successfully. If the (inspection) result is 'partial,' 'failed' or any other result, do not make the final payment."