It may be tempting to bypass the time and money it takes to deal with city officials and obtain a permit, but simply put, it’s not worth it. If your city building inspector learns you didn’t apply for the necessary permits, you will likely face a host of potential problems. A permit acts as a safeguard for everyone - they protect you legally and financially.

They keep you physically safe, since the reno project will be inspected by professionals who ensure the project meets code requirements, which includes city codes and plumbing & electrical codes.

Just to clarify - not every project will need a building permit. Learn more about which projects will need a permit here. We’re talking about attempting a renovation that does require a permit - without applying and receiving one.

What Happens if I Get Caught Remodeling Without A Permit?

Paying Fines

  • Will depend on the project’s scope and the specific violations.
  • Some jurisdictions may even fine you each day while the construction is in progress. If they discover the work after it’s completed, they will still fine you and require you to apply for the proper permits.
  • If a contractor is involved, the contractor and homeowner may both be fined for the same violations.
  • You could have avoided these extra costs if you would have just obtained the permit in the first place.

Halting or Even Demolishing the Project

  • The city inspection department may tell you to halt the project until the permit is obtained.
  • In some situations, they may tell you to take down the unpermitted project altogether. You’ll then get an order to redo any work done with the proper permits in hand. 
  • You’ll still be wasting time, money, and energy that could have been saved if you would have just obtained the permit.

Voiding Your Homeowner’s Insurance

  • If damage occurs to your home as a result of renovations, your homeowner’s insurance company can deny your claim when you try to file it. This may apply to any work done without a permit, and these large costs are quite simply not worth the risk. Examples:
    • An electrical fire caused by faulty wiring due to poor electrical work.
    • If someone slipped, fell, and seriously injured themselves in the project area.
  • You’ll need to have a permit on the project that was damaged. Illegal renovations could negate the homeowner’s insurance benefits you’re otherwise entitled to and may not cover your liability. Plus, you may be headed towards a costly lawsuit if the health and safety of another individual is involved

Being Unable to Get Proper Appraisals

  • If you want to refinance your home mortgage, you need an appraiser to check your house.
  • Any room additions not up to code will be excluded in the square footage stated in your home listings (which also means potential buyers down the line may think your home is smaller than it is).
  • You won’t be able to get a loan equal to your home’s value if it hasn’t been properly appraised. Or, if you decided to remodel without the proper permits required, the bank may disqualify you from receiving a loan at all.

Signaling Red Flags to Future Buyers

Sure, in some cases, you may slide by without a permit. But what happens when it’s time to sell your property? The seller is required by law to disclose remodeling projects to potential buyers. If interested buyers know that you don’t have the permits, it may be a big red flag, and they may no longer remain interested.

  • The buyer may also think you hired someone unqualified to do the work since you didn’t bother getting permits. They may have some worries about long-term problems down the road.
  • The buyer may also ask you to go back and get the permits (which costs you more money) or lowball you on your offer since renovations without a permit aren’t appraised into your home’s value.
  • You may be required by law to retroactively obtain permits to proceed with the sale. This will be more money you need to spend during the already hectic and costly time of selling your home.
  • If you decide to sell your home after renovating it, you’ll need a certificate of occupancy for the buyer.

To obtain this, you’ll need someone from your local government office to inspect your home and confirm it is suitable to be lived in. They may notice your renovation and see that you didn’t have a permit for them, which results in fines for you and no certificate for the buyer.

How Will They Know If I Don’t Have A Permit?

You don’t want to be constantly looking over your shoulder or playing a game of chance. Permits must be visibly posted while the work is being done.

There are many ways the authorities can be notified:

  1. A city inspector may simply be in the neighborhood that day or driving by your house when they see the construction work taking place. They could potentially put a stop work order on the front door and escort everyone off the property.
  2. Neighbors could also report unpermitted projects - especially if they work annoys them or blocks their view of something. This isn’t worth you stressing over since it can easily be avoided.
  3. Your home may be reassessed, perhaps even annually reassessed. This involves a property assessor coming to your home and inspecting its condition. You could get caught if your assessment mentions upgrades that require a permit and you don’t have the permit.

How Do I Cover All My Bases?

  1. While not ALL renovation projects require a permit, it’s important to know whether or not you need one, before you begin ANY work. Reference our blog post on applying for permits to see which projects require one and which don’t.
  2. Consult with your city building committee. Building codes and legal requirements vary with every city, so make sure you check with your local municipality to make sure there won’t be any problem with your remodel.
  3. Choose a good contractor. A good one won’t want to be involved in unpermitted work. If you find one who’s OK with it, that’s a sign you should choose a different one. Hire only licensed and reputable contractors so you can gain the peace of mind that the work they do will be up to code.

Remember, once you choose a good contractor, they will typically take care of applying for building permits for you. The important thing is to ask your contractor whether or not he or she will be doing this. If he or she will take care of it, that will be even less for you to worry about.

A closing reminder - permits are more than just a piece of paper. They exist for your safety. They generally come with an inspection once the project is done, so you’ll know straight away if your contractor needs to come back and fix anything. This protects you from putting your money into a renovation and not getting quality work in return. When you invest your money into a project, you want to make sure that the work is done right–and that you won’t get additional fines or consequences later down the line.

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