Action 9 investigates a real estate secret that can haunt homeowners

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ORLANDO,Fla. - Experts are warning residents of a real estate secret that could haunt tens of thousands of local homeowners: hidden open building permits that could kill a sale or a home improvement project.

Action 9 consumer reporter Todd Ulrich found closing the permits can be expensive.

“You have someone who wants to buy this house today?” Ulrich asked homeowner Bill Rucks. 

“Yes we do,” Rucks replied.

“You can't sell?” asked Ulrich.

“No I can't,” said Rucks, “I’m very annoyed about it.”

Bill Rucks had to cancel the house sale because of three open building permits from 28 years ago when the home was owned by someone else. 

The previous owners had installed a septic drain field and built a guest house that never passed county inspections.

“Completely blindsided. When we bought the house in 2011 none of these permits showed on open records,” Rucks said.

Since 2010, new real estate regulations require permit searches that can stop home sales and even new renovations.

Sellers like Ruck have found that trying to sue the previous owner is not easy and contractors who messed up can be long gone.

It can also be expensive, Rucks said. 

He spent $3,000 just for the architectural drawings to pass one inspection and the drawings have to meet today's building codes.

These opens permits could cost upwards of $10,000, Rucks said.

“Yes just for the permits themselves,” he said.

Action 9 reviewed Orange County building permit records from 2000 to 2010 and found more than 80,000 permits that remain open or have expired. 

And most of those homeowners, like David McAlister, are not aware.

“Did you know that?” Ulrich asked. 

“No,” McAlister said.

Ulrich brought him county records, which showed that the previous owner got a new roof after Hurricane Charlie but the permit has expired. 

The issue could cause quite a headache if McAlister tried to sell his home. 

The contractor later took out another permit to do the job, which was closed, but the lingering expired permit could still cause issues.

Rucks said he is having problems now because someone else didn't follow the rules. 

“Why should I be held responsible for something the previous owner did?” he asked.

Action 9 checked Orange County, but open permits are a big problem across Florida. 

The sooner a homeowner checks, the better the chance they have to find the contractor involved and get it fixed.

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