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Do I Need a Building Permit?

building permit
Reading Time: 4 minutes

As per the norm, my musings are reality based and I often relay stories about my encounters with clients and homeowners. Today I’m going to discuss building permits, when they are needed, when they are not and the ramifications if you needed a permit and didn’t bother to get one.

First, building permits have two primary functions. From the homeowner stand point you are protected in that you have an independent building official inspecting the contracting work that was done in your home to ensure it is correct and there are no safety hazards. From the contractor stand point, and mind you this is rare, if we do a project and for some reason the client chooses not to pay for the services rendered we as contractors can then place a lien on the property to ensure we get paid.

So when do you need to get a building permit for a project? As you can see from the above image there are thousands and thousands of pages of building codes that all vary slightly from region to region. So knowing when to “pull” (contractor lingo for getting a permit) can be a little tricky. Major examples of needing a permit are when there are structural changes being made such as moving a wall, adding a room, changing a roof, new windows, almost any type of plumbing work, and of course installing a new air conditioner in your home or business.

Again, the building official has the job of inspecting the work performed to make sure there were no mistakes made and to ensure no safety hazards are present. The best advice I can give you if you are planning a home project is that your chosen contractor should know if a permit is required or not. When in doubt it is best to contact your local cities building department and ask. Also, if it is a major undertaking and your potential contractor doesn’t want to pull permits for whatever reason, you might want to consider a different contractor.

Examples of when a permit is typically not needed are things like painting the interior of your home, changing floor coverings (although if you’re in a condo the building may require a permit for floors), changing appliances and any type of work that doesn’t have any possible hidden dangers. A good rule of thumb to follow is if it is a cosmetic improvement permits are likely not needed. You will of course, notice the list of when a permit is not needed is much shorter than the one where you need one. Now let’s talk about what happens if you needed a permit and didn’t get one.

If you needed a permit and didn’t get it, the first risk you are taking is shoddy work. The next risk you have embarked on is when you go to sell your home, the new buyers may want to see permit records. Lastly, and this is where we get into the “this just happened to a new client of ours category”, you are risking getting caught by a local building official for doing work without a permit and if this happens look out because it is going to get ugly very, very quickly.

We are currently working with a client that had an air conditioner installed by others without a permit. She then hired a legitimate electrical company to do other work that had nothing to do with air conditioning and while the city official was on site for the electrical inspection he noticed the new air conditioner. He then went back to the city records to discover that no permit was pulled to install said AC unit. It was also noted while the inspector was on site that the windows in the home appeared newer and once more, no permit was pulled.

This particular homeowner who shall remain nameless, is in the middle of thousands of dollars in fines and is looking at double and triple permit fees on top of the fines. That is not to mention all the additional costs she is occurring as the city is making her do much of the work in her home over because the original people who did the work didn’t have the proper licenses. If you think that sounds financially painful you would be correct, so the few dollars she saved up front by contracting the cheapest are long gone and she is going to be out quite a bit when all is said and done.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to annoy a building department let them catch you doing un-permitted work; believe me they will go over your property with an ultra, fine toothed comb, fining you six ways from Sunday for anything they can. City building officials take their jobs very seriously and rightly so, it is their job to protect life and property just like a police or fire official would.

Okay, rant over. The moral to the story is you are always going to be better off following the rules, pulling permits when needed and while the paperwork can be a bit of a pain in the ***, it is much better than the alternative.

Until the planet spins around seven more times and we meet again my friends, I don’t understand how products can be “new & improved” if it is new what did they improve it from?

House Whisperer out!!


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