Building Violations Caused by Previous Owners?


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My city or town is pursuing me for a permit violation related to work done by the previous owner. 

Congrats, you’ve become a new homeowner! However, you’ve discovered unpermitted work on your property, and your City or Town has issued a notice regarding building violations. Remember, even if this work was done by the previous owner many years ago, you, as the homeowner, hold the responsibility to rectify the situation.  These issues can escalate if ignored, so it’s crucial to take immediate action.

In many cases, a new homeowner faces fines and potentially costly legal proceedings for something they weren’t aware of. This situation prompts questions like, Who pays the fines? Can the remodeled room stay? Or does it have to be demolished? Can I permit the new kitchen retroactively? 

Review the Record

Upon receiving a notice of violation or fine, the first action should be gathering all relevant documentation related to the property, including purchase agreements, deeds, and any records of past renovations or construction. Reviewing these documents can provide valuable insights into what work was conducted by the previous owner and whether proper permits were obtained. 

Retain legal counsel

Once you have gathered all the relevant documents, it’s advisable to seek the expertise of a lawyer specializing in municipal and real estate law, such as 1818. These professionals can help assess your potential liabilities and develop a cost-effective plan to resolve the issue. They will also handle communication with the relevant municipal authorities related to the building violation, which is crucial for finding a mutually beneficial solution.

Attorneys will also be able to assist in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Document Review and Legal Consultation: They can thoroughly examine all relevant documentation and provide an assessment of liability.
  2. Understanding Local Regulations: Attorneys can assist you with specific permit requirements and regulatory frameworks governing the property.
  3. Exploration of Remedial Options: Investigate potential remedial measures, such as applying for retroactive permits or negotiating with authorities for a resolution.
  4. Proactive Risk Mitigation: Moving forward, implement proactive measures to ensure compliance with all permit requirements and minimize future risks, such as rigorously cross-checking visible updates with permit records. 
  5. Filing an appeal: Use the city or town’s internal review process to challenge the fine or violation levied against the property.  

If all the above fails, property owners can always consider legal recourse against a former owner if informal resolution attempts prove unsuccessful. An attorney can provide an opinion on whether pursuing legal action against the previous owner would be successful. 


Dealing with a building violation or permit dispute can be challenging, but with strategic planning and the right legal guidance, it’s possible to fight the violations on your property. By addressing the issue promptly with an experienced municipal law attorney like those at 1818, you can potentially mitigate fines, fees, and extra work. Remember, there’s always a path to a positive resolution.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.