Do You Need a Permit For Your Home Project?

Additions and Remodels
Bathroom Remodeling
Kitchen Remodeling
By Contractors.com Team June 01, 2021

Home renovations have many benefits. They can significantly change the character of our house and refresh it with some new style. If you’re looking to sell your house, renovations are a great way to increase your home’s value and make it more appealing to buyers. However, if you plan to do any major remodeling work on your home, there’s a good chance you’ll need to get a permit for renovations from your local government. 

Each state has its requirements when it comes to building permits, and finding out whether you need one or not can sometimes be a difficult task. On top of this, pulling a permit can sometimes be expensive, and the process can take a while. Getting a permit is worth it though, since doing major work on your house without city permits will risk more than just a fine. It can harm your home’s value and could cause safety issues if something goes wrong. 

Consider this article to be your guide on how to get a building permit. We will help you answer the question “do I need a building permit?” for projects of varying value and difficulty, and help clear the muddy waters.

When Is a Permit Required?

When Is a Building Permit Required

When Is a Building Permit Required

Put simply, if you plan to do any work that substantially changes some aspect of your house, you will likely need city permits. So, if your plan alters the structure of your house, changes the plumbing layout, or changes electrical circuit layouts, it’s a good bet that you’ll need to apply for a permit before starting work. Building permits are beneficial to homeowners since they allow you to keep your remodeling project above board and avoid expensive complications. 

Projects You May Need a Permit For

Most local governments will usually want you to get a building permit before completing these home improvement projects:

  • Roofing: This includes installing a skylight, installing sheathing, changing roof pitch or the material of your roof (if the change in material adds more than ten pounds per square foot of total weight to the roof)
  • Demolition: Includes demolishing or altering a load-bearing wall. Sometimes, some municipalities will require a permit for demolishing a non-load-bearing wall. If you need to park a roll-off dumpster on your street, you’ll need a permit for that as well. Does your plan include punching holes in the wall for new windows or doors? Or do you want to just replace your existing doors and windows? In either case, you’ll have to get city permits. 
  • Any major change to plumbing or sewage lines: This applies if, say, your bathroom renovation changes your pipe layout, or does anything with your sewer line.
  • Building an addition: This means building any addition such as an annex, accessory dwelling unit, or building/converting a garage and driveway.
  • Fireplace and chimney: Anything beyond chimney cleaning needs a building permit.
  • HVAC: Installing a furnace, air conditioner, or water heater.
  • Swimming pool installation: If you want to have a splash, you will need a city permit.
  • Outdoor projects: Building a fence taller than 6 ft., cutting down a tree on your property, or putting in retaining walls taller than 4ft will require a permit. 
Projects You Will Need a Permit For

Projects You Will Need a Permit For

Projects You May Not Need a Permit For  

In recent years, regulators have begun to require building permits for jobs that previously did not need them. It should also be noted that while a project may technically not need city permits, any job which exceeds $500 in cost will require a permit in several states such as California, Georgia, and Arizona. Thankfully, there are still quite a few jobs that you don’t need to pull a building permit for:

  • Roofing: Putting in a new roof that adds no more than ten pounds per square foot of weight.
  • Installing new flooring: This includes any kind of hard flooring such as vinyl, laminate, etc.
  • Demolition: If you put your roll-off dumpster on your property, no permit will be needed.
  • Electrics: Installing new light fixtures, receptacles, or circuit-breakers.
  • Outside work: Replacing your deck surface, building a storage shed, or building a child’s treehouse. Fences below 6ft, and walls below 4ft likewise do not need a permit. Cosmetic changes such as changing siding usually don’t require a city permit.
  • Fixture replacement: Replacing counters as part of a kitchen remodel doesn’t require a permit. The same goes for replacing appliances and bathroom remodeling, so long as you use existing plumbing and wiring.
Home Projects You Don't Need a Permit to Do

Home Projects You Don't Need a Permit to Do

How to Get a Building Permit

While policies on building permits vary, you typically need permits that are specific to the type of work you want to do. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS), may require you to get clearance from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works if you plan to do work on sewage lines.

How to Get a Building Permit

How to Get a Building Permit

We’ll use the LADBS permit process as an example. The standard procedure for applying for a building permit requires that you submit an application package to your municipal government. Before doing this, you’ll need to figure out the zoning and property laws that apply to your house. It is recommended that you consult with local city departments that may influence your project. Once you have done this, you can begin your application, and its first part will be a detailed plan of your proposed work. 

This plot plan must be to scale. It should show your home’s location, your lot dimensions, where work will be done, and the setbacks from property lines and between buildings. A typical plan is made up of three main parts: a floor plan, foundation plan, and roof framing plan. A floor plan shows where doors and windows are located, and what size these openings are. The foundation plan should show the size and placement of your foundation, and your roof framing plan should show the positions of roof rafters and ceiling joists along with their positions. The LADBS permit application also requires you to prove compliance with California energy efficiency standards. 

Your packet will include paperwork describing your proposed project in detail. You will also need to certify that you own and live in the home that you want to remodel. Many cities now allow you to do the application process online, but you still need to mail in your application in some cases. Once you submit your application, it is normal for approval to take a while. Most applications will need corrections made to them, and once errors are worked out, the plans are approved. 

However, you’ll have to pay a building permit fee which will depend on your proposed renovation and on where you live. In bigger cities building permit fees are usually on the high side, but, on average, you can expect to pay around $2,000 for a permit. However, more complicated plans tend to result in heftier fees. The building permit cost for a small remodeling project may only be $500, but a permit for a big project could run up to $7,500. 

Building Inspections to Expect

Building Inspections You Can Expect During a Renovation

Building Inspections You Can Expect During a Renovation

Once you have received your city permits and started your renovation, city inspectors will check your work regularly. This is done at several stages to ensure your project’s compliance with building codes. If you end up making a major change in your project plan, you will need to get approval from your municipality. There are different types of building inspections:

  • Insulation: new insulation/drywall is inspected by your municipality after installation to make sure it adheres to local fire codes and environment efficiency standards.  
  • Structural: any work that is done to alter your home’s foundation, including changes to pipes and new electrical wiring, must be inspected before it is covered up by concrete. Likewise, any uncovered work done to your house’s frame has to be inspected.
  • Rough work: this means changes to plumbing or wiring in the walls of your house, and installed air ducts require inspection.   

 

Once construction is completed, you will have a final building inspection. If your home remodel included the construction of an annex or a conversion, inspectors will issue a certificate of occupancy after giving your project final approval. If you didn’t add any structures to your house, you won’t need a new certificate of occupancy.  

What if I Don’t Get a Permit, But Get Caught?

What Happens if You Get Caught Building Without a Permit

What Happens if You Get Caught Building Without a Permit

It might be tempting just to skip the long permit process and go ahead with your renovation. This, however, is quite risky. Getting caught building without a permit will lead to your municipality giving you a “stop work” order. You’ll get a $500 daily fine until you comply, and will likely have to demolish whatever you built. It doesn’t end there. You will then have to get city permits anyway, and the building permit cost will probably be doubled as a penalty. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to restart your remodeling project — this time, with a building permit and regular building inspections. 

If you manage to finish your project without getting caught, you can still get found out afterward. If this happens, your municipality can still issue a fine and have your work inspected. Walls will have to be torn up so that the changes you made can be inspected. If your renovation isn’t up to code, you’ll have to do corrections. So, be prepared to tear it all up and start again, after getting a permit for renovation, of course.

Still considering taking the gamble? You won’t just have to worry about the city finding out. If you decide to refinance a home mortgage, you will need to get an appraisal. If an appraiser finds that you have done a lot of work on your house without city permits, this could disqualify you for a loan. Also, if an illegal renovation causes structural flaws, this could lead to an expensive repair bill down the road.  

As you might expect, building without a permit leads to a lot of headaches, and it isn’t worth it. 

Tips

Do I need a permit to build a deck?

As a rule, any planned deck that will be more than 30 inches off the ground (which is most decks) requires a building permit. Any deck lower than 30 inches off the ground does not. 

Call someone at your municipality.

If you have pressing questions you’re unsure about, you can try getting in touch with someone who works at the relevant local government agency. Regulators are typically quite happy to clarify things for you. You can also visit your city’s website which will typically have easy access to key information.  

Read the code.

If you want to be extra thorough can read up on your local building codes, which can also easily be found on your city’s website. Here is the LADBS building code. Building codes are very dry documents, but they’re worth looking at. If you can find the relevant section covering the type of work your renovation project includes, it can help to clear things up. 

Contractors 

It is common practice for some homeowners to rely on a remodeling contractor to get a permit for renovation. This is a convenient option since an experienced contractor should know which permits to pull and which building codes will apply. Homeowners should, however, be mindful as some non-licensed contractors may prefer to cut costs and avoid getting a permit. This puts the homeowner in a weaker position in the event something goes wrong. To play it safe, consult your state’s labor department database to make sure your contractor is licensed. If you want to be safer still, you can do the permit application process yourself. If you chose to do so you should be aware that you will be considered the general contractor by most states including California, and the contractor you hired will be considered a ‘subcontractor’. This is known as an Owner-Builder arrangement, and you can read more about it here.   

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team

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