What Do You Really Need a Permit For?

By Todd Fratzel on Safety

Building Permits And Why You Need Them

If you’re looking to make significant, non-cosmetic (painting, plastering) changes to your home, you’ll need individual permits from your city housing board. Though permit requirements vary from city to city (and by the size and scope of your plan) generally you’ll need a permit for major structural or electrical projects. Here are some of the projects you really need a permit for, though you are still encouraged to double-check with your individual city board:


Building a Fence. A fence less than six feet tall usually won’t require a permit in anywhere other than a city. If you share a fence with a neighbor and are planning on alterations, however, be prepared to get written consent from him/her before applying.


Moving a Sink. If you’re moving around any plumbing in your bathroom — adding a tub, removing a shower, moving the sink to the other side of the room — then a permit is necessary. Repairing fixtures does not require permission from the city.


Installing Electrical Wiring. If you want to run new wiring in your house (not just replace or repair old ones) then you’ll need a permit. These usually require at least two inspections (two for when you initially mount device boxes and cables, and one for when you connect switches, install circuit breakers, etc.)


Making a Door/Window Opening. You’ll need a permit for this so that the city can prevent proposed openings through plumbing lines, electrical fixtures, or heating ducts. Additionally, the city will recommend certain measurements and thicknesses for the openings.


Altering the Roof. Typically, if a heavier roof covering (like a tile roof) will be used to replace another one, or if rafters or trusses need to be replaced, a permit is required.


Demolishing a Wall. A full demolition will require a permit, and the permit itself will necessitate several attached documents. You’ll need photographs of the area and written permission from the homeowner, among others.

Remember: Permits increase the amount of time you need to do the project, partly because of inspections and re-inspections. If you fail to start your work within a specified period of time, or otherwise abandon your project, then your permit will expire and you’ll have to re-apply. You can’t transfer a permit to another person once you get it (the name on the permit is the party responsible for the work) though, in the case of illegal work, fees and fines apply to both homeowner and contractor.

Illegal work typically involves more headache and stress than going about your project the legal way: All municipalities have their ways for discovering hidden illegal changes to your home, and the punishment is harsh. If you don’t have a permit for certain changes, some cities will force you to undo your work — and then force you to apply for a retroactive permit before starting over. Additionally insurance companies often will not cover damage done to or caused by work done without a permit — and it will make selling your house sometime in the future extremely difficult. Contact your local building board for up-to-date details about the housing codes in your city.

About the Author: Mitch Harris is a freelance writer for Lennar. Lennar Corporation is one of the nation’s leading builders of quality homes for all generations. Potential buyers can find a Woodland Texas home builder in Lennar as well as Minneapolis new homes for sale.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Tool Box Buzz. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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