In all the excitement of creating a home customized to your unique style, it’s important to remember some key rules and regulations everyone must follow. And the town ordinances will vary across every city and state, so ask yourself how well you really know your neighborhood.
Before you decide to get started on that addition on your property, you must adhere to local building codes and ordinances that determine where and what you can build, add, or change on your property to make sure there won’t be any problems with your remodel. Any big structural changes to your house will need approval within your specific home remodel permit requirements, so make sure your contractor checks with your local municipality BEFORE any work starts. First is knowing for sure where your property line is. But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered on everything you need to know.
Here’s what you and your contractor have to understand about city ordinances, as well as any setbacks, easements, covenants, and restrictions. Yep, all of it.
Don’t be that neighbor that all the other neighbors have a problem with. Getting the approval of your neighbors before your renovation begins is important to maintain positive relationships where you live. And you’ll want to get them in writing.
But it’s not just your neighbors you have to think about. Every neighborhood is different, but if you live in an area that’s overseen by a homeowner’s association (HOA), you’ll need to abide by their rules too. An HOA is a private community organization that enforces a set of agreed-upon rules to maintain property values, which includes various conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CCRs) — in addition to town ordinances. Many HOAs have review boards that will need to approve all architectural and building plans before you apply for your permits.
The first step in the zoning permit or zoning appeal process is knowing your district and specific residential zoning codes. This info can easily be found online and is modified regularly to address changes in your specific community.
Zoning regulations cover basic building issues, such as the maximum height, width, and depth of a building, as well as its allowable uses — from residential, commercial, industrial, and home-office considerations.
For example, if you have a single-family home located in a multifamily zone, this is known as a preexisting, nonconforming use. And while it may sound like a bad thing, it simply means that your use of this home is “grandfathered” or permitted to continue as long as you don’t make any significant changes covered by zoning regulations and town ordinances.
Similarly, if your house falls into this preexisting, nonconforming use category, you will also need an approval called a “variance” from the municipality in order to build an addition. Even if your home currently conforms with current zoning rules, any proposed addition that is taller than the maximum height for the zone or wider than the maximum width will require a variance. Variances are usually decided by a zoning board consisting of local citizens chosen by the municipality’s governing body. In many cases, it may be helpful to hire a lawyer or architect to prove to the zoning board that the variance is necessary.
Speaking of keeping on good terms with your neighbors, enter: setback requirements. These specific requirements mandate the number of feet between your home or addition and the property line. When you bought your house, you should have received a document called a survey plat. If you don’t have one, you can get a copy from your municipality. This will help you determine the existing relationship of your house to the property boundaries. And once you do, you can check with zoning or building officials for the appropriate setback distances.
According to home remodel permit requirements, if you plan to build an addition beyond the setback area, you have to have a variance. If you do build without a variance, you may be forced to remove the addition altogether.
Your survey plat will also show you any easements related to your property (you can also check your deed or tax map for this info). An easement is a legal restriction that prevents changes to areas that provide access to services and utilities. For example, a municipality may own a sewer easement on a portion of property for a storm or wastewater sewer. Even though you own the property, you don’t own the rights to the land on an easement, so in this case, there may be limitations to what you can do with your renovation.
Typically, easements remain with the property until legally changed, and it is unlikely that an easement can be changed to accommodate an addition.
Deed restrictions are conditions placed on the property by former owners to protect specific areas of the property. Common examples are a property that consists of wetlands or other natural resources or an open space that is off-limits to future development. Take a look at your deed to see if there are any limits to the type of development or changes you can make to your property.
If your home or neighborhood has a historical, cultural, or ethnic significance, it may have its own regulations to help preserve its character. If this does apply to you, you may encounter some of the following scenarios.
- Higher renovation costs
- A more in-depth permit process
- Town ordinances that require additional materials
- Plan approvals by the municipality or local historical commission
Make sure you talk to the appropriate officials and get their approval before breaking ground on your project.
Visit your city or county website to find what type of building permit you must apply for and what fees are associated with that permit. Building permits help ensure projects comply with International Building Code (IBC), state and local building codes, and regulations. If you are doing a kitchen or bathroom remodel with plumbing and electrical, you might even need multiple permits for your project.
We recommend that you start your permitting process at least 3 months before beginning your renovation project. Check out our guide on renovation project permits to see what projects do and do not require permits to get started.
Throughout the various phases of your project, city officials will conduct several scheduled checks to check for compliance with:
- Fire codes
- Property maintenance codes
- Residential zoning codes, and more.
For example, if your project involves new drywall, an inspector must check framing, HVAC rough-ins, exterior wall, and window sealants before any installation can begin.
And if you’re thinking you can avoid some of these tedious inspections, think again. A city inspector simply driving through your neighborhood can stop and perform a check if they see construction work taking place. Your neighbors could also report unpermitted projects — especially if something about the construction annoys them or obstructs their view. Just another reason to get their approvals before the shovel hits the dirt!
Failure to comply
To really hammer down the importance of following the rules and abiding by home remodel permit requirements, we have some more convincing repercussions:
- If an inspector finds a violation, they first issue a notice of violation, giving you a short amount of time to address the violation appropriately.
- The city may issue serious fines for a direct violation of city codes and regulations.
- The inspector may even request that you halt or demolish the project.
- If there are any damages to the non-permitted work, you could also have issues getting proper appraisals or insurance to cover the issues.
- Most lenders will not let you borrow money for the portion of the home that has been improved without a permit.
It’s important to remember that while your general contractor will typically agree to obtain the appropriate permits, you’re the one who will be responsible for the costs. This is why choosing a qualified contractor is key! Check out our resources on finding a contractor for your home renovation, and contact RenoFi today for more information on how to be best informed and prepared for your renovation project.