Scrapping permits

For homeowners, few moments are as depressing as the death of a water heater. The mess. The cold showers. The replacement costs.

The permit fee? For thousands of area residents, that's a deal-breaker. These struggling homeowners were underwater before the heater tank flooded the garage. So instead of hiring a licensed plumber, they do the work themselves or tap the vast gray economy for handyman labor. The permit fee goes away.

Last week, the Clark County Commission discussed "owner builder" permits, required but increasingly ignored for projects such as patio covers, replacement water heaters and water softeners, and conversions that change or add living space. The county has a permit amnesty program in place until Sept. 28, which allows anyone who completed residential construction without a permit to come forward and pay the normal fees of between $54 and $400 without a penalty.

However, some members of the all-Democrat commission questioned whether such permits are necessary in the first place. County Building Director Ron Lynn noted the department loses money on every home water heater inspection. The county has issued just 9,000 permits for replacement water heaters over the past five years. The number of new water heaters actually installed is at least twice that.

"That's too much government for me," Commissioner Susan Brager said last week.

Inspectors are in and out of buildings in a minute, providing homeowners with the same warnings as water heater manuals: Keep the space around the unit clear. If thousands of water heaters are being installed without permits and inspections, and there has been no resulting trend of neighborhoods and businesses burning to the ground, Ms. Brager's sentiment appears to have merit.

Commissioners could bring up the permit issue as soon as their Tuesday meeting. They should scrap the permit requirements for routine plumbing and construction projects. Let homeowners decide what risks are acceptable, and give them an incentive to do business with taxpaying, licensed contractors instead of day laborers.

And after the county does away with these permits, the region's cities should follow suit.