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Extreme Heat Means More Pools. But Permit Delays are Driving Up Cost of Projects

Backyard swimming pools can make this intense heat a little more bearable. That’s why many homeowners look to build a pool. But some say they’ve been waiting several months to dive in because of city and county holdups. And the I-Team has learned that those delays may start costing homeowners a lot more money. 

Courtney Berman took advantage of low interest rates months back and refinanced her home, taking out cash to build a pool. 

“We’ve been wanting 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 be swimming by now. Instead, they just broke ground. They point to delays with the City of Los Angeles’ permit process for her standard pool. At one point, they say the plans were kicked back for missing a staple. 

“I feel like you just hear these nightmares about the city. If I performed my job that way, I’d be fired immediately,” said Berman.

Homeowners in Ventura County say the permit process there isn’t any better. One homeowner says it took seven months to get a permit for a standard pool. 

While homeowners say the delays are frustrating enough, the problem only gets worse. Since the contracts were signed months ago, the cost of materials has skyrocketed. The homeowners’ contractor, Michael Smith, told them he’s not making any money. 

“I was nervous two months in,” said Berman. “Is Mike going to cancel the contract and be like, ‘Sorry, I can’t make it work?’”

Per state law, Smith can’t bail on the job. He has to honor the contract he signed and he cannot increase the price. 

“Ninety-percent of the time on these jobs I’m eating it and hoping 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 go up during permit delays. She says she got a bid $30,000 higher than what she’s paying Smith. Smith doesn’t like the idea of marking up jobs, but says if the City of Los Angeles and Ventura County don’t speed up the process, he’ll likely have to. 

“Which really isn’t fair to the homeowner. They’re paying a ransom for maybe if the prices go up,” said Smith. “It’s not great for word of mouth, because then you get the reputation of overcharging.”

The I-Team asked the departments of Building and Safety in the City of Los Angeles and Ventura County about the permit holdups. They both insist that many standard pool plans, like Berman’s, are approved within a day. But they also both said they’ve been short staffed, and some offices only recently fully reopened since the onset of the pandemic. They tell us they’re processing permit applications as quickly as possible. 

As for Berman, she won’t be swimming this summer.

“We’re hoping for mid-to-late October. We’re putting in a jacuzzi so we can use that all winter,” she said. 

Her story is a reminder that anyone planning to work on their home that needs a permit: 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 Contractors State License Board

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