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legality, permission, forgiveness, fines, process, complaints ...

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17401
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
First, this is not about politics or changing laws. This is about navigating existing laws.

The first example that pops into mind is ponds. If you talk to some agencies, they wanna give you grant money to build a pond. Other agencies will tell you that it is illegal to build a pond. Some agencies only care about your pond if they receive a complaint. There could be several dozen government offices that require to be notified about anything pondish, and yet those that build ponds know which offices to notify and which to skip.

Building permits are similar. Some people build without them and never have a problem. Some people built without them and are then told to tear their stuff down. Some people build without them and find themselves in a four year long entanglement with several levels of government including the feds.

And then there is that thread about trespassing. I first heard about these techniques as a way to bypass building codes. I suppose it works on every branch of government. So you can basically do whatever you want. but it sounds like you need to be pretty savvy about that sort of thing.

Another thing is that I was talking to a construction guy and he was telling me that pretty much everything is illegal if you get into a pissing match with an inspector. And different inspectors can come out and some will say "what you are doing doesn't need a permit or inspection" and others will say that the same thing needs more permits and more inspections.

And then there is the story of two guys in one town. One easy going guy fixed the leak in his roof without a permit and got a $20,000 fine. Another guy, fully ready to take the city on, did all sorts of roof work and other stuff without a permit and the city did nothing.

Another awkward position is having potlucks. The upside is building community. the downside is having people attend your potluck that have a hobby of calling every government office to report every wacky thing they can think of. They just can't stop themselves. And if you are doing something interesting, they have to call.

Another thought: some people are sweet as pie. People just naturally like them. And they can do all sorts of odd things and have all sorts of interesting people come over every day and all of their un-permitted stuff is never questioned. their interesting stuff is never reported. I am certain that I cannot depend on this approach since I don't have these super powers.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of ten or more acres, a border hedge and a really big, strong, people proof gate. My thoughts are that while this works very well at keeping critters in, and discouraging predators, it also discourages trespassers and people up to no good. It seems kinda icky to keep people out to this degree. But at the same time, I suspect that if one is doing interesting things, it could facilitate a lot more smoothitude. If an agency is responding to a complaint, then they are probably used to driving up to the front door and doing their thing. but if they can't get near the front door and there is no way to walk in, I suspect there is a 98% chance that they will just say "screw it" and move on to their next task.

It is amazing how some folks think that the law seems to require that in order to do anything interesting, you need to be lawyer. A really good lawyer. Maybe even have a team of a dozen excellent lawyers. Maybe even be spending a million dollars a year on lawyers to for a farm operation that nets $20,000 a year if everything had no lawyers. And this team of lawyers needs to be experts in all sorts of laws.

Another thing that might help: having a really good lawyer. A bulldog lawyer. So that if an office gets a complaint they might say "I know those guys have that bulldog lawyer, so I'm gonna move this complaint to the bottom of the stack. So it is on the "to do" list, but we will probably never get around to it."

As I travel around and see lots of amazing and interesting things, there are a lot of excellent things that I don't share because the property owner is concerned about legal repercussions. And I appreciate hearing the stories of how things work out, and what sorts of challenges were encountered, and how to make the best of it.

I think it is kinda funny when I talk about wofati or rocket mass heaters and people say it will never be permitted, or you can never get it insured. At the same time I live in a county that does not require any permitting and either thing is perfectly acceptable. Granted, insurance companies aren't gonna insure it, but I kinda think there are a lot of times where it is better to not fool with insurance companies. And then I think about areas where it might be illegal and then I think about how people are willing to smoke pot illegally, but they aren't willing to try a rocket mass heater. And I've heard of people that decided to take the risk - and they heated their home last winter with a rocket mass heater.

I would very much like to hear stories on how people were able to accomplish interesting things in these complicated times. Too often people say "you can't _____" when the more accurate answer is that you can, but it just takes knowledge on how to navigate this sort of thing.

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Lloyd George

Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
we have a busybody neighbor who I have not gotten around to scalping is coming, no doubt about it. have been hassled by the bloody county for everything under the sun. Until I wrote a very pointed letter to the editor/owner of the local paper pointing out just how much liability the county was allowing it's employees to incur by simply showing up under the guise of an "anonymous complaint" and wandering around the property (with a camera!) without the owner's knowledge or consent...sometimes even when said owner is home...oh and by the way, I have minor daughters often at bugger off right? I also opined that since the county saw fit to oust all of it's incumbent supervisors the election prior, that it was high time we got into every county office and dug through files, audited procedures and practices and cleaned out some desks.

The silence was deafening.

they quietly let me know that they would be leaving me the hell alone.

the fence is up, it is posted, and a gate will be up soon. deterrent if nothing else. I hate to be unwelcoming, but twenty years in the Navy, I am right sick to death of two legged rats anyway.

building permits....industry/goobermint driven extortion for the most part. but, unfortunately necessary. it is unfortunate that thte field is so damn crooked.
P Thickens

Joined: Jan 15, 2012
Posts: 177
Location: Bay Area, California (z8)
Figure out which inspectors do what. If Joe Inspectorini does all the plumbing, roofing, electrical and windows, get all that together, all at once, and put in a call for every one of those inspections to come up on the same day. Then you do a bit of work and call for Jim Inspectorooni and he does the joists, supports, concrete, and drainage all at once. This means the inspector does ONE call on your house. They're usually very glad not to be called back again and again, they hate to feel like their time is wasted, too. Additionally, the many hats they have to wear, all at once, may make them miss something.

Heh heh.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
we are in a non zoned area which means that there are no zoning police running around and we manage to get away with doing 99 % of our stuff without inspectors..a couple times we got caught and the people were pretty good about it.."just don't do it again"..type of good.

Our pond was put in by our contractor that put in our new house and drainfield after our housefire..the house and drainfield were inspected and permitted, but our pond was not and never has been although work is done on it quite regularly with rented equipment or our tractor.

One caveat to a gated drive.

where we live the ONLY gated drives at the road are the "seasonal people" that have "vacation homes" up here..and mostly the only places that get robbed or broken into are the ones with gated drives..or those with obvious lack of tire tracks in the snow..the criminals don't walk in the front drive, they park down out of sight and go cross country to steal, and plunder.

the driveway across from our driveway is gated and they have all kinds of problems with people getting on their property (and it is marked no tresspassing and ours is not)..we seldom have any tresspassors.

so that is something to think about with those gates.

One thing I found helpful, when we first bought the property the first thing we did is plant trees by the roads and property lines..the ones out front made it "eventually after FIL stopped mowing them down..he had alzheimers"...and now I have a deep screen of full size evergreens along the front of my property so prying eyes can't see in..and we are growing evergreens on the other two sides that aren't already wooded..that is the best way to keep strangers eyes off of your property


Bloom where you are planted.
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5727
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
I've never been prevented from doing anything I wanted to do, maybe that's because I haven't done anything interesting! But of the things I want to do, I would just do them. We're deed-restricted against some things I don't particularly want to do, like raise hogs, have a feed lot, or make large visible junk piles. But I think everything I really want to do I could just go ahead and do without offending the neighbors.

I agree with Brenda about the gate. A big fancy gate says "we have valuables back here." A crummy rickety gate and weed-infested drive says "not much of value here in Poor White Trash Land." Our crummy gate is set well back from the road. Even though our house is slightly visible from the road, the FedEx guy drove up about a dozen times before he noticed it. He would just honk his horn. Eventually the trees will grow up enough to block it completely in another ten years or so.

Idle dreamer

Jennifer Lachman

Joined: May 10, 2012
Posts: 1
Finally a topic that I actually know something about. I have absolutely no legal advice because I am just some backwoods girl that happened to get an amazing job in Pond Management out of pure luck. I have been doing it for 5 years now and the main thing I have learned is that as long as people don't know about it until it is done you are usually okay. The big things that will get you in trouble even before you finish the project are...
a) changing the waterway. If you create a damn to stop flow of water and divert it to your pond your in trouble.
b) adding chemicals to the water. Even ones that don't require permits like copper sulfate can cause problems.
c) building your pond in a wetland area or an environment that is ideal for endangered plants to thrive. You may have to have a professional evaluation to determine this. Most likely the local authorities already know if your property is one of the off limit areas but they won't tell you about it until you try to build. Hiring a private company for the evaluation is your best bet.
Having said all of that in my experience once a pond is up and running and supporting plant and fish life people are less likely to do anything about it. They may be angry at you, but they would have to jump through a bunch of hoops at this point to do something about it and that is more work then most people want to do.
Also be aware that once you build the pond even if it is smack dab in the middle of your property you no longer own that part of your property. The federal government owns all water and can come on your property whenever they want without notice or permission to get to it. Also if others can get to the pond by water without stepping on your property they can fish and swim and do whatever they want. In some cases you may even be held liable if anything happens to them while they are using your pond without permission.

Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5727
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Jennifer Lachman wrote:The federal government owns all water and can come on your property whenever they want without notice or permission to get to it.

I would like to see the law which states this.

Jeanine Gurley

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1393
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
I recently talked to a man who had quite a lot of success in every endeavor that he has tried so far. Has navigated bureaucracy in big cities and set up a business or two in little small town areas.
I was asking for advice on some small time ventures that I want to get into in the future. I was surprised when he said “Do not call the permits office, do not call the tax office, do not call the license office” “They will F#$% you” “Just do what you want to do and when, and if, they show up just be your sweet self, smile be agreeable, and go along with the program”.

Then he told me the stories of how he started out in each of his businesses. Obviously I am not going to point this person out but it WAS NOT the advice I was expecting.

Now this would not be wise if we were talking about selling meat or dairy - as we have seen what happens to people who try to sell milk that is actually good for you -- Thinking back though – I have seen this in other businesses / endeavors / projects in my own area over the years.

I’ll be thinking about it.

1. my projects
Kat deZwart

Joined: Aug 13, 2011
Posts: 103
Location: Limburg, Netherlands, sandy loam
I'm in Europe and while somethings are different (even more regulated I wager) some things are the same everywhere.

It's so bad over here that it's known that when there's a sporting event with air-camera's (cycling f.i.) there are inspectors watching the match and noting where there are unlicenced extensions, sheds, pools etc.

The one thing that helps me more than anything is being the aforementioned bulldoglawyer myself. I get away with a lot of stuff because they know I know my way around the law. It's also good to know that around here there's a law that states that even if you've build something without a permit, the authorities are forced to legalise it (you just have to pay the normal fee) unless it can't be accepted due to extreme violation healthcodes/buildingcodes etc. Even then, they have to specify what's wrong and give a reasonable time to fix things before more draconic measures are taken. So, it's often faster, cheaper and less stressfull to go ahead and accept that you may have to do some paperwork afterwards, than going trough the whole thing beforehand. Just make sure you document the whole thing, so you can proof which materials are techniques are used, how long a building/pond/whatever has been around etc.
Jonathan Bigaouette

Joined: May 17, 2012
Posts: 4
The main thing is to buy property that is in a county that wants the tax revenue from your improved property more then micromanaging you. When I bought my land I called the county before I closed and asked what kind of permitting I needed to build an off grid cabin (more of a house really 1600sf+ a 3 car garage) and they said "just pull an electric permit its state law and don' t piss of the DNR"

When you get a little ways out and in the right location they just don't care what your doing as long as you don't pollute.
subject: legality, permission, forgiveness, fines, process, complaints ...