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Most local governments have building codes to ensure that houses are constructed correctly and safe for occupants. Building codes vary from one locality to another due to differences in geography and climate, and they can change frequently. Codes are rigidly enforced in new construction homes, but houses that were built decades ago and have been repaired, renovated, or updated several times over the years often have code violations.

Many violations are minor and don’t affect safety. If you’ve found out that the house you’re thinking about buying isn’t up to code, you don’t necessarily have to walk away, but you should make sure the house is safe before you proceed. If you buy a house with code violations that create safety risks, you may have trouble obtaining a mortgage. You may also have to pay more for homeowners insurance than you would for a house that was up to code.

Always Have a House Inspected Before You Buy
In most states, sellers are legally required to disclose any code violations to buyers, but that doesn’t mean they always do. Before you purchase any house, you should have it inspected to find out if it has major problems. Your real estate agent can recommend a qualified local home inspector. City inspectors usually aren’t involved in inspections for home sales.

If the home inspector discovers conditions that violate the local building code but don’t pose a safety risk, the seller may not be required to fix them. For example, a vanity or toilet may be too close to a wall, but if you don’t mind, something like that won’t be a problem. Inspectors are concerned about serious code violations that pose safety hazards, such as a foundation that wasn’t poured correctly, a ceiling that isn’t properly supported and electrical wiring that was installed incorrectly.

Check Permits for Past Renovations
If the house you’re thinking about buying has undergone major renovations, you should contact the local government to make sure that the required permits were obtained and that the work was inspected and approved. If those things didn’t happen, the work might’ve been done incorrectly and the house might be unsafe. In that case, you could require the seller to make repairs to bring the house up to code, or you could choose to walk away. If you don’t check for permits, buy the house, and find out later that work was done without a permit, you’ll have to pay for repairs.

Get Professional Advice
If you’re considering a house that has building code violations, the nature of the violations is key. Minor issues might not be a big deal, but ones that created safety hazards could put you and your family at risk if you lived in the house, and they might prevent you from buying the home at all. Discuss specific details about the house you’re considering with your real estate agent.