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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 Building or 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 toward a costly lawsuit if the health and safety of another individual are 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 from 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 the 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 Can I Avoid Building Permits?

It’s not recommended to try to avoid obtaining building permits when remodeling your home. Permit requirements exist to ensure that your home renovations comply with safety codes and standards, and failure to obtain the necessary permits could lead to legal and financial consequences, such as fines or having to redo work that was not permitted. Additionally, if you try to sell your home in the future, unpermitted renovations could impact the home’s value and make it more difficult to sell.

If you’re concerned about the cost or time required to obtain permits, you can consult with a licensed contractor or design professional who can guide you through the permitting process and ensure that your renovations comply with local codes and regulations. They can also help you to understand the costs and timeline associated with the permitting process and ensure that your project is completed safely and correctly.

What Can a Homeowner Do Without a Permit?

As a homeowner, it’s important to understand that certain home renovation projects require a permit to ensure that they meet safety codes and standards. While it may seem like a hassle to obtain a permit, it’s important to follow the rules and obtain the necessary permits to avoid any legal or financial issues down the line.

However, there are some home improvements that you can do without a permit;

  • Painting: Painting the interior or exterior of your home typically does not require a permit.
  • Flooring: Replacing flooring materials, such as carpet, tile, or hardwood, typically does not require a permit.
  • Cabinets and Countertops: Replacing cabinets or countertops in your kitchen or bathroom typically does not require a permit.
  • Minor Plumbing Repairs: Replacing a faucet or a toilet, repairing a leaky pipe, or replacing a water heater typically does not require a permit.

Minor Electrical Work: Replacing a light fixture, installing a ceiling fan, or adding an outlet typically does not require a permit.

It’s important to note that even if a project doesn’t require a permit, you should still ensure that the work is done in compliance with local building codes and regulations. If you’re unsure whether a project requires a permit, it’s always a good idea to check with your local building department before beginning the work. They can provide guidance on what requires a permit, what type of permit you need, and what the process entails.

By following the rules and obtaining the necessary permits when required, you can ensure that your home renovations are done safely and to code, and you can avoid any legal or financial issues in the future.

When is a Building Permit Required For Remodeling?

The specific renovation projects that require a permit may vary depending on your location and local regulations. However, in general, the following renovation projects typically require a permit:

  • Structural Changes: Any changes to the structural components of a building, such as adding or removing walls, building an addition, or modifying the roofline, require a permit.
  • Electrical Work: Installing new electrical circuits or making changes to existing electrical systems, such as adding outlets or light fixtures, typically requires a permit.
  • Plumbing Work: Any modifications to the plumbing system, including installing new fixtures or changing the layout of the pipes, generally require a permit.
  • HVAC Systems: Replacing or installing a new heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system usually requires a permit.
  • Window and Door Replacement: In some areas, replacing windows or doors may require a permit, especially if the size or configuration of the opening is changing.

It’s important to check with your local building department to determine which projects require a permit and to obtain the necessary permits before beginning any renovations. Failure to obtain the required permits could result in fines or legal issues down the line.

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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