Whether you just want to do a small home renovation project or you’re constructing a building from scratch, you might need a construction permit.
In this blog, we’ll cover all the basics of construction permits.
There are some cases in which permits are necessary, and there are some cases in which they’re not.
We recommend always playing it safe and checking with your local municipality to see what they require.
Even if your contractor says you don’t need a construction permit, it’s better to double-check before getting started.
Finding out after the fact that you did need a permit is not a good place to be!
Here’s what you need to know.
1. What is a construction permit?
A construction permit is an official approval issued by the local government agency that allows you or your contractor to proceed with a construction or remodeling project on your property.
A permit helps ensure that your plans align with local standards for land use, zoning, and construction.
They guarantee the safety of current and future owners and occupants.
They also enforce zoning and land-use policies.
The construction permitting process may address issues with the structural integrity of framing, zoning, sanitation, sewer lines, water, electrical service, and fire protection.
2. What is the history of the construction permit?
Construction permits were originally required in response to disasters (i.e., hurricanes or fires).
The level of destruction that occurred often happened because of poor construction practices.
This was particularly evident in cases like Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.
When the hurricane hit in 1992, the area saw significant damage because there was previously a lack of enforcement in building codes or inadequate codes altogether.
Additionally, cities like Chicago, London, and New York have had issues with fires throughout history.
They have worked hard to create stricter fire building codes and comprehensive building permits to keep everyone safe.
3. Who arranges for the construction permit?
It depends on who is doing the project.
If you’ve hired a contractor for your project, then the contractor typically arranges the permit.
They’ll likely refer to this as “pulling” the permit.
If you “pull” the permit yourself, you’ll be considered the contractor in the eyes of the city.
Contractors are liable for issues if there’s a construction problem.
This is something you should keep in mind if you’re doing the work yourself.
Do you want to be liable if something goes wrong?
Although having a contractor is more expensive, they also protect you and help you avoid liability if something goes wrong.
Additionally, a contractor’s preexisting relationship with the city can benefit you.
They may be known and trusted by the city, and they can help you avoid pitfalls or obstacles throughout the process.
4. When is a construction permit needed?
You don’t always need a construction permit when building or renovating.
There are some simple repairs and replacements that can be done without going through the application process.
Here are lists of when permits are required, might be required, and are not required.
Double-check with your locality to make sure, but permits are usually required for the following home projects.
- Demolishing a load-bearing wall
- Changing a house’s roofline
- Expanding the house
- Altering the house’s envelope
- Installing any new electrical wiring or adding circuits
- Installing a fence over a certain height (such a 6 feet) — as this is often considered an add-on
- Parking your roll-off dumpster on a public street
- Building decks over a certain height (such as 30 inches above grade)
- Doing anything with a sewer line because it extends beyond the health and safety of your household
- Building an addition, garage, or carport
- Constructing a wood-burning stove, fireplace, or insert (chimney cleaning doesn’t require a permit)
- Converting your garage
- Installing a new furnace, air conditioner, or water heater
- Installing new hose bibs for the outside of your house
- Re-roofing that involves structural elements, including but not limited to the sheathing, skylights, change of roof pitch, and change of roof materials where the total weight exceeds 10 pounds per square foot
- Installing either an in-ground or above-ground pool (multiple permits required)
Permits Might Be Required
Some localities require permits while others do not for the following projects.
Do your research before getting started.
We recommend calling your local building office and describing your project, so they can tell you whether you need to apply for a permit.
- Moving a sink
- Demolishing a non-load-bearing wall
- Replacing doors or windows on a one-for-one basis
- Cutting down a tree on your property
- Installing a retaining wall that’s more than 4 feet tall (retaining walls tend to topple above this height)
Permit Often Not Required
Many previously non-permitted actions now require a permit.
However, there are still some that you don’t need permits for.
This list can help serve as a guide as to when you can skip the permit application process.
However, if you’re ever unsure…make sure you call your local building office!
It’s always better to take the extra step than realize too late that you needed a permit and must start over.
- Laying a new roof (or similar materials)
- Parking your roll-off dumpster on your property
- Putting in any kind of hard flooring or carpeting
- Replacing an existing sink
- Painting the interior or exterior of your house
- Replacing your countertops
- Replacing the siding on the exterior of your house (as long as it is a non-structural issue and purely cosmetic)
- Doing minor electrical work (i.e., replacing a light fixture or electrical outlet)
- Installing a deck below a certain height (30 inches)
- Constructing one-story detached buildings like workshops and storage sheds (a permit is required if they receive electrical or plumbing services)
- Building tree houses under a certain size/height (if the tree house is habitable, then it will need a permit)
- Installing a fence below a certain height (6 feet)
- Disputing your property boundaries — this is a civil matter
- Constructing a retaining wall below 4 feet tall
- Replacing your decking surface as long as it’s not a structural issue
- Replacing bathroom and kitchen fixtures as long as plumbing line modifications aren’t being made
- Replacing appliances (but avoiding modifying gas, plumbing lines, or electrical circuits)
5. What is the permitting process?
If you decide to do the work on your building or addition yourself, then here’s what the process of obtaining a construction permit looks like.
Contact your local building office
Reach out to your local building office and describe the project you want to do.
If you need a permit, they’ll let you know.
You’ll be able to fill out an application and take the next steps (see below).
Prepare a construction permit application
To apply for a permit, you’ll need to submit an application.
Some jobs may require multiple permits, which can become complicated.
For example, a major remodeling project could require a carpentry/construction permit, an electrical permit, and a plumbing permit.
Prepare your permit depending on what your local building office requires.
Depending on your specific project, you may need drawings of the work you plan to do.
Submit the application and pay any fees
Turn in the construction permit application you’ve been preparing and pay the fees associated with it.
The fee will vary depending on where you live (and possibly the project you’re completing).
The licensing office will then issue you an official permit certificate.
Call the inspection office to arrange a visit
Keep in mind that each project typically requires two inspections.
The first is a “rough-in” inspection at a prescribed point in the workflow.
The second and final inspection is after the work is complete.
Wait for approval
Once the inspector approves the work and you receive a certificate of occupancy, you no longer need to display the permit certificate.
6. Can you bypass the construction permit process?
No, you must have a construction permit to complete the building process.
Unfortunately, many homeowners will go through the entire process without applying for a permit.
They won’t pay the application fee or have the work inspected or approved.
These projects can be completed without the permitting process and high-quality results are possible.
However, various problems will likely arise if you skip permitting altogether.
These issues include:
Selling your house
When you go to sell your house, you’ll likely have a buyers’ inspection done.
During this inspection, they may uncover remodeling or additions that were done without the proper permits.
Without completing the permitting process, you may not have done everything up to code.
If you’ve skipped the permitting process and things have been done incorrectly, you may not be able to sell your home.
You have to make sure your home is completely up to code before you can sell it to a buyer.
So, you’d need to undo the previous work and redo it entirely with a permit.
Liability in the event of structural collapse or plumbing problems
If you’ve had immense damage to your home either due to a fire or a plumbing process, then you may discover that this problem occurred because of work done without a permit or inspections.
Furthermore, because of this, your homeowner’s insurance can decline to cover these damages because they were done without a permit or inspections.
This leaves you liable for expensive damages. Yikes!
7. What happens if you don’t have a construction permit?
If the building project requires a permit and you don’t get one, then the local jurisdiction may place a stop-work order on the work being done until you get a permit.
You may also be fined.
8. What happens if I skipped the construction permit process?
If you or your contractor skipped the permitting process (accidentally or on purpose), what do you do?
Unfortunately, you’re not in the best spot.
Without a permit, you may be subject to fines and penalties.
If and when your local building department discovers that you’ve been working without a permit, they may notify you to cease work until you’ve applied and received the proper construction permit.
It isn’t cheap to skip this process.
Some municipalities charge up to $500 per day for violating building permit laws.
Your county can also put a lien on your home if you don’t pay the fine.
Take construction permits seriously!
If you’re working with a contractor who recommends skipping the process for one reason or another, look for another who will do the job by the book.
It may be more work now, but in the end, it’s worth it.
9. How much does a construction permit cost?
A construction permit can cost anywhere from $50 to $2,000 depending on the project and your municipality.
In general, larger projects will cost more.
Here are the various ways that your fee structure may work.
A total percentage of the project budget
A price per square foot
A flat rate
It’s up to your local building office to dictate the price, so discuss this in detail with them when you first reach out.
10. Can you get insurance without a permit?
No. This is yet another reason to play by the book and get a construction permit.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to get insurance for your project because companies won’t issue you a policy without verifying you have a permit.
Why? Because they want to make sure the building is safe and built to code before they insure it.
If something happens to someone on the property due to low-quality or incorrect work, then you’re liable for any damages.
11. Do construction permits impact the value of the house?
Yes, construction permits effectively transfer to the new owners when you sell your house or business property.
When you can confirm that your property was built to code, it enhances the value of your property.
The permit applies to the property (not the owner), so it will be transferred to the new owner if you sell the property.
They don’t need to do anything or apply for new permits unless they want to add to the property.
12. What are the different types of commercial permits?
There are a variety of different permits that allow a commercial property to be built, renovated, or added to.
Here are the permits you may end up applying for:
Commercial site new construction
This permit is used for projects that will excavate, reinforce, and erect new buildings.
This permit is required when making major alterations to a building, such as installing a new roof.
If you’re planning to redo your building’s interior and expect to alter or expand a major system, such as electrical or plumbing.
Change of use
This permit designates the change of use of space.
If a new owner takes over a commercial space for a different use, then they must apply for a Change of Use permit.
When you’re starting a residential or commercial building project, don’t skip the step of applying for a construction permit.
If your project requires one and you don’t have one, you’re likely to incur fees from the local government.
Or worse, you could have to stop or redo your project entirely.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.