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When Do You Need a Building Permit?

Building permits are an often overlooked part of home improvement projects. Not getting them when you need to can quite easily make your final costs skyrocket, through fines and added expenses. Being able to understand building permits and when you need them can be an extremely helpful tool for anyone. So the next time you ask yourself "Building permits, when do you need them," look here.

Quite easily one of the most costly mistakes that a person can make when doing any home improvement project is to not obtain a building permit. When you don't get a permit, and it turns out that you needed one, you can be faced with delays that can cost you a huge amount of time and money to over come. That being said there are a few things that anyone can do to avoid this problem.

Generally speaking, the easiest way to know when you need a building permit is to call down to your local building authority and ask them. Like I said this is generally the best way to find out since the building codes can vary widely between cities and regions. For example, in one city you might be required to have a building permit if you making any changes whatsoever to your plumbing, electrical lines or even putting in a new sprinkler system. In another city you might not need it for those instances, but you might need it for such things like building a garage, or a deck.

There are a few times when it is a fairly good bet to know when you are going to need a building permit. Such times include the following:

  • Adding stairways
  • Completely redoing your roof.
  • Installing fireplaces, or wood burning stoves
  • Building a raised deck
  • Extensive remodeling
  • Installing or replacing water heaters, or plumbing fixtures
  • Building a retaining wall
  • Creating or expanding existing doorways and windows

As you can well imagine, this is just a short list of all the instances where you might need to have a building permit. There is such a wide variance in the different circumstances where it might be required that you have a building permit, that it is literally impossible to list them all.

However, if you have hired a contractor to work on your home they should be at the very least familiar with the process. When you are hiring a contractor, there is going to be a part of the hiring process where you both sign a contract. In that contract you should have it outlined that the contractor is responsible for the obtaining and maintenance of any and all required building permits, and that the failure to do so is going to result in the contract footing the bill when it comes time to pay the fines. Finally, before paying the contract, you should ask for a copy of any required inspection results (which is what the building permit is for in a way). Making sure that everything is up to code is going to save you a huge headache, and added expense, later on when you try to sell your home.

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Comments for this tip:

Carol    20 Dec 2016, 15:41
In 2014 winter, I had a huge water pipe break in my home while I was away for a few days. It resulted in 4" of water on my 1st floor; and some damage on the 2nd floor.

The insurance adjustor did NOT come to my home until over 2 months later...he confessed he was overwhelmed with the many problems due to the bad weather.

The contractors insurance told me to call (they deny they told me) came, had me to sign a 1 page contract to allow them to start work. They started 5 days at least after the break. (I had called 911 and a policeman came and stopped the rapidly pouring water.)

After 6 weeks or so of headaches, arguing with the contractor (he refused to replace with equal or better products)but kept putting in what "he" wanted and cheap, i.e. no good quality wall paper, but paint. No parquet floor but cheap industrial made wood; no top of the line kitchen carpet, but the same cheap industrial wood. It was a constant headache...plus they busted the corner off my marble bathroom sink; tore out my custom made cabinets and rebuilt one; put my laundry room ceiling back in totally crooked such that I couldn't later put the lights in correctly (I'm now waiting to have the whole ceiling redone).

And...this is just a small part. They tore my curtains off their rods, breaking rods and tearing up curtains; using my good bath towels for rags; set the kitchen sink on top of my wooden boat; put a microwave on top of my velvet seat chair; broke numerous pieces of valuable china; tore the handle off my storm door on the front of the house; broke the handles on my living room fire place. AND...stole jewelry, fine scarves, and on and on from me. I finally had enough. (I'm a 72 yo widow...and didn't know when to say STOP!). I finally did. Then got another group to come and make the house at least where I could live in it. At that point I had no bath commodes, my kitchen cabinets had to all be put back in; I had to have carpet put in the living room and bedroom; I had to pay to have a huge dumpster unloaded and moved; also a POD. Consequently the insurance company did not pay me for what they should...and I had no money to pay the first contractor. He sued me and wanted to bring foreclosure on my house. I then got an attorney; then a 2nd attorney, and now a 3rd attorney. I am now out tons of money..and my house is still in shambles....but I can live in it and do! I don't recall ever seeing a building permit...by either of the two contractors. Can I do anything re that?
William Niewola    08 Apr 2015, 12:16
Do you need a permit to put up a tubular carport with a canvas cover ? This will be cemented in place.
Mike    03 Nov 2014, 23:03
Well... these are small scale projects... I was thinking more along the lines of whether Disney requires permits for ongoing structural changes on a more massive scale, and how large private rural properties could have similar large scale projects taking place on a more ongoing basis.
awyatt    23 May 2014, 09:11
Jeremy: You'll need to talk to someone at your city or county office to see if you'll need one.
Jeremy mcmanus    23 May 2014, 08:36
Our church is planning to build a handicap ramp for a elderly lady.do have to have a building permit.
jack woods    13 Oct 2013, 19:17
say for example you want to put up a pole barn the reason for the permit is to tax you at year end NOT SAFETY!.
awyatt    28 Dec 2012, 19:58
About the only thing you can do is go talk with a lawyer and see if they can handle it.
GuardDuck    28 Dec 2012, 17:11
How do you handle it when your HOA(s) should have obtained permits for remove & replace same old window frame assemblies with same old window frame assemblies WITHOUT re-sealing them, but did NOT obtain permit to do so & lied to City about construction work they performed? Nothing to show new buyer, or anyone, for their snafu(s) that cause more rain leaks?

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