It was the integrity of Perrenoud Roofing that convinced Danielle Martini to hire them to reroof her property on the lower South Hill this spring. Where other roofing companies had recommended unnecessary and pricey repairs, she says, Perrenoud's "estimator was extremely honest and did the work."
But by midsummer, Martini and Perrenoud were at war: Perrenoud had screwed up, she alleged, tearing holes in her siding, scattering cancer-causing asbestos, violating multiple Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency regulations, and costing potentially $100,000 to fix the mess. Martini refused to pay her bill until she was satisfied, and Perrenoud put a lien on her house.
And in the midst of all of this, she'd learned, neither of the two mandatory city roofing inspections her permit had paid for had been completed. Before Perrenoud declared her roof complete, they hadn't scheduled either one.
"The city inspector told me, 'This guy's known for this,'" Martini says.
Real estate agent Jacci Bottler says she heard a city inspector say the same thing a few months earlier, while another property owner, Kathy Campbell, says her property manager heard a version of that from an inspector in 2016: Perrenoud was "notorious for not calling for inspections."
It's only when Martini ran a search on Perrenoud on the city's online permit system that she found just how notorious: More than 1,300 Perrenoud permits — spread across over 1,200 different properties in the city of Spokane alone — had expired without Perrenoud scheduling a final inspection.
That included eight out of every 10 city roofs they've worked on since 2005: apartment complexes, condos, cemetery buildings, a bowling alley, a medical building, and countless neighborhood homes. It includes properties owned by St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Salem Lutheran, and the City of Spokane's parks department. Even David Condon's old house — back in 2008, before he ran for Spokane's mayor — had been reroofed by Perrenoud without getting a final inspection.
And few, if any, of the property owners knew. Local governments, if they knew, hadn't done much of anything. Outraged, Martini began firing off emails to practically everyone — including city departments, City Council members, the state attorney general's office, and the Inlander.
"All of these consumers actually have un-permitted roofs due to the deceitful intentions of Perrenoud Roofing, Inc. & the negligence of the City of Spokane," she wrote to the AG. That could impact their ability to sell their house, for starters.
Perrenoud, in stark contrast, argues that shirking city inspections is actually doing customers a favor. But there's one thing that Perrenoud and Martini can agree on — albeit for different reasons: The city's inspection process is deeply flawed.
"Bottom line, the system is broken," Martini writes in an email to Spokane City Council.
NOTHING BUT THE ROOFCrisp piles of permits are lined up in a row behind Nathan Perrenoud in his North Spokane office. Over two decades, the Perrenoud Roofing president — broad-chested, goateed — had built his company into one that he says handles 400 roofs a year. They'd been chosen to reroof everything from parts of Geiger Corrections Center to even, in 2014, Riverfront Park's Looff Carrousel building.
"So you probably know that there are numerous city inspections that haven't been completed by us," Perrenoud says.
It's not an oversight. It's not an accounting error or a miscommunication or a computer glitch. Perrenoud has been skipping most of the city and county required inspections intentionally.
"I'm not going to say it's wrong or it's right," he says.
But his motivation, he claims, is about protecting his customers. The city, like most municipalities, requires two inspections. Before the roof can be closed up and the final inspection can be conducted, the roofer has to do a "deck" inspection of the roof's bottom layer, assessing crucial components like the roof's waterproof ice shield.
But the city and county inspection process, he says, makes him wait. It can take hours — even three days, if he calls it in on a Friday, before the inspector arrives — leaving the house vulnerable in the meantime.
"It exposes my customers and my company to unneeded threats," Perrenoud says. "The exposure to the home, to the homeowner's contents, to everything, is so great when that roof is torn off, that we can't wait."
He points to his bona fides as a "Master Elite"-certified contractor with GAF, America's largest roofing material manufacturer, to argue that his own standards are far more rigorous than anything the county or the City of Spokane requires.
Yet, another local roofing company, Heritage Roofing & Construction, has the same certification, but only 4 percent of their permits have expired without inspections.
"To me, it's a pride thing," Heritage owner Ted Flynn says of his inspection record. "You should want everything to say final, final, final."
He sees the inspection process in a lot less dire terms. You can almost always schedule it for the same day, he says — even sometimes requesting a specific hour. If there's a problem, the inspectors can be flexible. They'll approve half now and half later. They'll sometimes even let you send in a photo documenting it if they can't make it in person.
"It's easy-cheesy," Flynn says. "It's the easiest inspection process there is."
Perrenoud says if his customers ask for him to schedule the city-mandated inspection, he'll be more than happy to make it happen. But every customer the Inlander spoke to said Perrenoud hadn't initially told them they had to ask.
"It wouldn't even occur to us," says Sheri Boggs, a former arts and culture editor of the Inlander who got her garage roof redone by Perrenoud in 2018.
The owner of North Bowl didn't know his bowling alley roof hadn't been inspected. Neither did the 76-year-old woman who, a decade ago, sent Perrenoud a letter declaring that the company's "owner is a very honest man and trustworthy."
Both, however, liked Perrenoud's work so much that they said they would be happy to work with him again. But not all of Perrenoud's clients were as enthused.
"The City of Spokane building inspector was not called for a 'deck' inspection," former Browne's Addition property owner Kathy Campbell wrote in a furious 2017 letter to GAF, the group that certified Perrenoud as a Master Elite roofer, "WE had to call for inspection after-the-fact."
Even the city parks department hadn't known Perrenoud hadn't requested an inspection when his company re-roofed its maintenance building in 2012.
When the Inlander suggests that Perrenoud hasn't been telling his customers the full truth, he counters with indignation.
"You think I'm lying to them?" Perrenoud asks the Inlander. "Do you think I'm lying to my customers?"
A few customers say so bluntly.
"He's a liar," Martini says. "That's my opinion."
Bottler feels similarly.
As a real estate agent, she knows just how important inspections are. Banks often don't want to lend to a buyer if the house they want to purchase has a big expired-permit question mark looming over it.
"Sometimes the deal falls apart," she says.
This spring, Bottler bugged Perrenoud repeatedly over two months to finalize her permit, before he finally emailed her to say, "Yes, the final inspection has been completed."
Bottler called the city. Neither inspection had been completed, or even scheduled. Perrenoud could have confirmed that online in an instant.
Perrenoud says it was an honest mistake — he'd left a message for the inspector, and just assumed it got done. But Bottler doesn't buy it.
When the city inspection finally was scheduled — after another month — he found something. He wanted Perrenoud to add in a few more vents to the garage, an extra measure to prevent heat damage to her roofing in the summer.
With so few city inspections completed, it's hard to know how many other issues inspectors might have spotted over the years. In one rare Perrenoud inspection in 2017, the city inspector concluded that the roof's ice and water shields — a waterproof membrane designed to prevent water damage to roof decking — came up short over the entryways.
"Even with people that are above and beyond trained and certified, they're going to miss something," says James Moore III, the Spokane County director of building and code enforcement. "That's what we're here for."
INSPECTION INTROSPECTIONWith his inspectors covering up to 200 miles in a day, Moore says he doesn't have the staffing to monitor when contractors are skipping their inspections.
So, until the Inlander asked the county to run the numbers for Perrenoud, Moore says he had no idea.
Less than 8 percent of Perrenoud's re-roofing projects in Moore's jurisdiction had received all of their inspections. More than 300 permits in the past decade had expired without his team examining the property.
"I was like 'Whoa, wait a minute?'" Moore says. "'Are you kidding me?'"
With inspectors covering up to 200 miles in a day, one Spokane County official says they don't have the staffing to monitor when contractors are skipping their inspections.tweet this
Moore began making phone calls to other regional governments to see how they dealt with contractors ducking inspections.
Cheney warns contractors when their permits are about to expire. If the contractor refuses to do anything about it, Cheney Building Official Shane Nilles hits them with a $513 ticket. Every day, it's not fixed, it's a new violation.
"One of my more primary work functions is just having to deal with these violations," says Nilles.
The City of Spokane, meanwhile, is the worst of both worlds: Contractors — but not homeowners — are told when permits are about ready to expire, and there's nothing to force the contractors to actually do anything about it. The only penalty in Spokane for skipping inspections is a paltry $75 reinspection fee — and it's only paid if the contractor decides to actually get an inspection after all.
Not requesting inspections is an International Building Code violation, according to the city, but Spokane hasn't actually established a penalty for violating it. Therefore, Perrenoud argues, he's not even breaking the rules.
Martini is aghast, writing to the state AG that Spokane had allowed "this contractor to exploit a loophole in its permit system."
But not just one contractor: From his office desk, Nathan Perrenoud hands the Inlander four Washington state Labor & Industries printouts — with names circled of other contractors he claims have been skipping inspections or even ignoring permits entirely.
Though none of the other major roofing contractors the Inlander reviewed had as great of a percentage of expired city roofing permits as Perrenoud, plenty of them also played loose with inspection requirements. The Kodiak Roofing Company skipped almost every required city inspection in 2015, though their recent record is nearly spotless. Reve Exteriors only has a handful of City of Spokane permits on record, but two-thirds of them have expired.
Moore, for his part, says he wants to reach out directly to homeowners, a bit like what Spokane Valley used to do, to let them know their contracts haven't been completed.
"I'm going to send a letter to the owner, saying, 'Complete your permit,'" he says. The challenge is figuring out a way to automate it.
City of Spokane spokeswoman Kirstin Davis, meanwhile, says they're trying to figure out their own way to address uninspected properties — maybe a steeper penalty for contractors who ignore the process. But considering the tight housing market and the city's staffing crisis, more red tape may look unappealing.
So Perrenoud offers his own solution: When he re-roofs manufactured homes, a process overseen by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, the department allows him to simply send in a photo of his work, and they'll approve it remotely. Since he doesn't have to wait around, he cooperates fully with that inspection process.
"We have a 1,000 percent batting average there," he says. Spokane city and county could do the same, allow photos and videos and even drone footage be used instead of requiring inspectors to set foot on the property, and he'll be happy.
"I 100 percent believe that the permits are needed," Perrenoud says. "I think everybody should live up to a minimum standard." ♦