I recently got a firsthand glimpse into the nebulous world of municipal building inspection and can’t say that I was reassured by what I witnessed.
Last month, my brother and I were helping a friend by replacing the shingles on her house in Orangeburg.
I’ll concede up front that I am not a licensed contractor or roofer. However, I was simply helping the homeowner by doing this job for her before any more damage could occur. (There was significant leakage and thus damage to the interior of the house).
Anyway, after working for several days, the city building inspector paid us a visit. The inspector called me down off the roof and made us stop working – well sort of.
The inspector calmly explained that I was required to have a building permit to do any work estimated over $200 and furthermore that only direct homeowners and their immediate family could do rehab work without a license.
However, and here is the real kicker, the inspector offered that I could fill out a business license application ON THE SPOT by simply signing a few forms and writing a check for $100 to the city of Orangeburg.
If I complied, he would let us go back to work, provided the owner call and get a building permit that afternoon. So, after about 30 minutes of discussion about possible fines etc., I wrote a check for $100 to the city of Orangeburg, signed the application and got back to work on the roof.
The next morning, the owner drove up from Charleston to obtain a $30 building permit. Thankfully, we got back to work and finished the job up a few days later.
Is this any different from a mob boss knocking down the door and requiring that I pay him for “protection?” I think not. Sounds like extortion to me.
I wouldn’t mind if the city was providing some sort of service for these fees, say inspecting contractors’ work for safety, code compliance, etc.
Clearly the job of the Orangeburg city inspector is not to ensure the safety of city residents and visitors; No, the city inspector drives around town with a badge and a clipboard collecting money under the threat of fines and losing one’s right to conduct business.
Erich Chatham is a small business owner who lives in Charleston. He is a member of the Bastiat Society.