How Much Is Convenience Worth To You?


Last week I blogged about the habit that some local cities (including Wauwatosa) has of micro managing businesses within the city limits.  As some of you know (or can easily tell), this is a pet pieve of mine.  In fact, I have a category on my other blog, The World According to Nick, dedicated to stupid laws.  Well, in response to my post last week, another Wauwatosa resident, who has asked to remain anonymous, emailed me this:

I saw the subject of your community blog today, and it reminded me of something that happened to me in Wauwatosa recently.  Our dishwasher broke, so I went to a local Wauwatosa establishment to buy a new one and picked out a new shiny dishwasher for about $500.  I asked how much was delivery and installation, and the first question was "where do you live?" Apparently in Wauwatosa, you need to pull two building permits, one for electrical and one for plumbing costing over $100 for the permits alone.  This is to replace an EXISTING dishwasher. So installation was going to run well over $400 dollars.

I went to two other places and got the same story, including a retailer in Brookfield.

In the end, I bought one and had it delivered without installation.  Then I read the instructions and installed it myself in about 30 minutes.  It turns out it's a fairly trivial operation if you are even a little bit handy and are replacing an existing unit.

Why on earth is the city of Wauwatosa entitled to $100 for me to put in a replacement dishwasher?

When I read this, I thought he was pulling my leg, so I went over to the official Wauwatosa website and did a little research.  And for a dishwasher, it does seem you need two permits, one electrical and one plumbing.  The plumbing permit is $50 flat just to start, plus $10 for each appliance requiring inspections, while the electrical permit could cost you anywhere from $25 to $50 (its confusing on the permit).  The electrician also needs a special city license in order to do the work (which costs $12 annually).  This licensing is above and beyond a required state certification.  As it turns out, Brookfield has a $65 minimum on their electrical inspections, but their plumbing inspections seem to be cheaper.

Of course, my intent in pointing this out is not to suggest that building codes have no use.  However, when they get to this point, where the common home owner would rather forgo having the work professionally done, it ends up defeating the purpose of the codes.  The general purpose behind codes and permits is to have a safer home, and to make sure that when you buy a house from someone, there is a reasonable presumption of safety.

But ask yourself this... if the work is being done by a licensed professional, who is employed by a business that wants to maintain a solid reputation in the area, isn't that actually more of an incentive to do good work, than an inspection process that is nothing but a way for the city to collect extra money?  And further ask yourself... if you charge so much for a permit that people would rather do the work themselves without telling the city... is that actually making our homes safer?

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