You don't always need a building permit
when embarking on a home improvement project, especially if it could
be described as a “cosmetic” change.
It's likely that your local building department
won't require a permit if you are planning a project that
doesn't involve structural remodeling, demolition,
electrical work or replumbing. Permits generally are unnecessary for
minor changes, such as house painting, carpet laying and replacing
cabinets without electrical or plumbing connections.
However, you shouldn't make assumptions about what is minor. You save time, money and headaches by checking with your local building department to learn what the regulations are regarding permits before you even hire a contractor. In general, the permitting process is intended to make sure that you aren't the victim of poor construction work and that your home is habitable.
Missing Permit Headaches
When a permit is necessary, the consequences of completing work without one can be serious. Avoiding the permit process -- which usually involves building department inspections – can create extra costs, delays and worries for you and your contractor.
Here are some potential negative consequences of forgoing a necessary permit:
Major Fines. You may be fined, and the fine may cost several times the price of the missing permit.
Construction. If the building department
hears about your remodeling project after completion, it may still
require an inspection. To check for the adequacy of underlying
plumbing, wiring and structure, the inspector may mandate removal of
portions of the remodeling.
Zoning Violations. You may need to completely remove a home addition if it somehow breaks regulations of local zoning code.
Resale Problems. If the property is never inspected, questions about the unpermitted construction may arise when you want to sell the property. Buyers often will make purchases contingent on obtaining the proper inspections.
Ignorance is No Defense
Not knowing about local zoning and building permit regulations likely won't save you from costly correction of problems. Homeowners shouldn't rely on statements from friends or contractors who say that a permit isn't necessary. Instead, gather information before the sawdust and anxiety start flying.
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