City of Albuquerque found hundreds with illegal construction projects

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - The City of Albuquerque says it is dangerous and, if they catch you, it will cost you.

With the popularity of home improvement shows on HGTV or the DIY Network, handy homeowners have the tools to try to do just about anything on their own these days. However, there is a part of the process those shows tend to gloss over.

"You don't see where they come down to the city to get a permit and get their design approved," said Land Clark, Albuquerque’s Chief Building Official.

Lots of people learn about that the hard way.

"At first, we didn't know that we have to get a permit," Edna Diaz said about the construction of her carport.

She said it has been a hassle going back and forth with the city to ensure it is up to code.

"It’s like, really? You're buying the property, and you have to get permits for everything you do?" she asked.

The city said it all comes down to one thing.

"We’re looking to keep some people safe," Clark said. "We have high winds here. You know, a block wall blowing over, that can kill people."

Clark said there is a lot of confusion about what needs a permit and what doesn't.

Guide to construction project permitting for Albuquerque homeowners >>

He also said not getting one when you should, will catch up to you sooner or later.

"That’s what we run into a lot, somebody's trying to sell their home and they're now trying to scramble to get to permits and inspections and sometimes it is a huge investment."

Permits for walls can cost a couple hundred dollars while permits for patios can cost a couple thousand.

The city said fees are based on the square footage and valuation of the construction project.

Below is a look at fees the Planning Department collected for residential properties in 2017 (App users click here):

2017 Permit Fees:
Permit Type # Issued Average Fee Total Fees Collected
Patio 97  $17,885.85*  $1,734,927.00
Walls (6 ft. or higher) 212 $211.59 $44,858.11
Decks 12 $364.85 $4,378.20

*Patio fees ranged from $228 to $225,000. The city said fees for additional projects being done simultaneously with the patio construction may be included in those totals.

Courtesy: Albuquerque Planning Department

Plus, if you're caught doing construction without a permit, the city charges double-not to mention whatever it costs if the work needs to be re-done to meet city standards.

"A lot of these things don't happen in real time," Clark said. "I'm not sure why, but the construction may have been completed months ago, sometimes years ago without a permit [by the time it is reported]."

To catch shoddy jobs, the city relies on neighbors to tip off its complaints investigator, so he can check out the construction in question, notify the residents and document the new addition to the home.

The city said it often involves smaller projects that homeowners may not realize call for permits and inspections, like building and raising walls in your yard, patios and decks.

Construction Complaints in 2017 (Click to View):
  • 450 Complaints Inspections
  • 400 Violations Found
  • 310 Cases Resolved

Courtesy: Albuquerque Planning Department


The city's Building Safety Division said it collected nearly $1.8 million in permit fees for those residential projects last year. It also caught 400 people for violations, doing work without a permit, according to the city.

"It’s probably far worse," said Thom Wright, a licensed contractor who retired after decades of homebuilding.

"Most neighbors don't call. Most of the time they don't know. They don't pay attention."

He said the field is constantly adapting to determine the best way to build something to withstand the elements like heavy rain, high winds and snow.

Even hiring an unlicensed contractor or handyman at a lower cost, comes with higher risks, Wright said.

"If he is cheating the state, cheating the city and cheating his employees, why would you think he's not cheating you?"

Between handling thousands of permit applications and checking buildings for damage after disasters like fires, city inspectors can only do so much with the help of neighbor tips.

That is why the Building Safety Division said it hopes to work with city employees in other departments as they are out and about in Albuquerque to cut down on the cases of bad building going unnoticed.


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