Extreme heat means more pools. But permit delays are driving up the cost of projects – NBC Los Angeles
Backyard pools can make this intense heat a little more bearable. That’s why many homeowners are looking to build a swimming pool. But some say they waited several months to dive because of city and county lockdowns. And the I-Team learned that those delays could start to cost owners a lot more.
Courtney Berman took advantage of low interest rates months ago and refinanced her home, taking money to build a swimming pool.
“We’ve wanted to build a pool for years, probably since we moved in,” she said.
Berman signed a contract with a pool builder in early February. They both thought Berman would swim now. Instead, they just innovated. They report delays in the City of Los Angeles permit process for its standard pool. At one point, they say plans were canceled for missing a staple.
“I feel like you just heard those nightmares about the city. If I did my job that way, I would be fired immediately,” Berman said.
Ventura County homeowners say the permit process isn’t any better. One owner says it took seven months to get a permit for a standard pool.
While owners say the delays are frustrating enough, the problem is only getting worse. Since the contracts were signed months ago, the cost of materials has skyrocketed. The owners’ contractor, Michael Smith, told them he wasn’t making any money.
“I was nervous two months later,” Berman said. “Is Mike going to cancel the contract and be like, ‘Sorry, I can’t make it work?'”
Under state law, Smith cannot bail out the job. He must honor the contract he signed and he cannot increase the price.
“Ninety percent of the time on these jobs, I eat it and hope to keep the job good and happy,” Smith said. “I’ll take the hit, but you can only take so many hits and stay in business.”
Berman says other contractors seem to be marking up their jobs to protect themselves in case prices rise during permit delays. She says she got an offer of $30,000 more than she’s paying Smith. Smith doesn’t like the idea of marking jobs, but says if the City of Los Angeles and Ventura County don’t speed up the process, he probably will have to.
“Which is really not fair to the owner. They might pay a ransom if the prices go up,” Smith said. “It’s not great for word of mouth because then you get a reputation for overcharging.”
The I-Team questioned the City of Los Angeles and Ventura County building and safety departments about the permit delays. They both insist that many standard pool plans, like Berman’s, are approved in a day. But they also both said they were understaffed and some offices have only recently reopened since the pandemic began. They tell us that they process permit applications as quickly as possible.
As for Berman, she will not be swimming this summer.
“We are hoping for mid-October. We are installing a hot tub so we can use it all winter,” she said.
Her story is a reminder that anyone planning to work on their home and needing a permit should plan as far in advance as possible. And while she’s happy with her contractor, others may not be. Consumers can file complaints with the State Licensing Board of Contractors.