Is My House Grandfathered-In? What are Grandfather Rights?
by Dan Wolf
on Thursday, June 28th, 2012 at 3:22pm.
Home sellers, when looking at the buyers home inspection, often ask if a recommended repair is "grandfathered" because it has always been that way since they bought the house.
What does the term "grandfathered in" or "grandfather rights" mean? The common interpretation of the term means that "something that was once permitted building codes can continue to be, although the code or law has changed."
In Alaska, both Anchorage city limits and rural area's, occasionally have homes that may have been built prior to zoning. An example of an acceptable grandfather rights could be a zoning change prohibiting homes without a garage or possibly a zoning change requiring home built over 30 feet (or some distance) from the lot line. If the zoning change happened after an existing home was built, the home would be "grandfathered in" and wouldn't be required to be moved. That exception would be called a variance, or an exception to the rule. If a party built a home after the new zoning was in place, say, without getting a building permit, the local zoning office can determine the house was built after zoning and doesn't comply and could require drastic changes to the structure to enforce the zoning. These problems are handled on a case by case basis by the Planning and Zoning governmental body.
If the code is considered "health or safety", I am not aware of a grandfather clause to exclude them. There are many examples of health and safety codes and they often change over time. Examples of health and safety codes that have changed and are not grandfathered are window size and height, deck rails and spacing, hand rails, electrical things ground fault intercepts and grounding things, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and hot water tank earthquake strapping.
These codes are developed as engineers study property fires, earthquakes and other disasters where property is damaged and lives are lost. The point of these code changes are to save lives and there aren't any grandfather rights on these sort of issues. That doesn't necessarily mean the seller has to make the repair. The financing and / or lender can have a say in the process too. For instance, a federally backed loan such as a FHA or VA can be more restrictive than a conventional loan where the buyer maybe putting a larger amount of money down.
From experience, it helps a lot to work with a real estate professional who has experience with various situations and a broad perspective to stay objective.