Home renovations are exciting. They have the potential to transform your home, increase its marketability, and make it a joy to live in. Whether you’re living in the home yourself, or planning to rent it out to others.

However, the whole renovation process is not without its difficulties. Planning and research is necessary, and costs can quickly start to add up. It’s understandable, then, that homeowners are eager to make the process as quick and easy as possible. It’s for this reason that some owners seek to complete renovations without having all the right permits in place. They might seek to avoid building permits altogether, or apply for them after the work has already been completed. 

Illegal construction is a big problem. Since 2018, different US cities have been fighting to tackle this problem. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued more than 20 stop-work orders (SOA) to halt any illegal constructions and impose fines. This issue isn’t limited to the US. Across the pond in the UK, for example, forty of these retrospective applications are filed each day.

SOAs will be a large problem for landlords and homeowners. Aside from the complete stop of the construction, the substantial fine will mean an additional cost to your overall renovation.

The question is, when are building permits necessary, and why? How wise is it to avoid them? Is it worth the risk of not having one? Let’s find out.

When are permits necessary?

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

A permit will most likely be needed if the structure or use of a property is being changed. Even in cases where the actual square footage of your property remains the same, as with garage conversions, a permit will still probably be required as the area’s function will be different.

Plumbing and electrical work usually need a permit. These renovations need to be carried out by an officially licensed contractor. 

Largely cosmetic changes, such as repainting work, or repaving your driveway, do not usually require a permit. There are still many grey areas, however, and your individual situation may be different. It’s always worth doing your research just in case.

Why are permits necessary?

Permits are primarily necessary to ensure that new construction work complies with all of the relevant safety standards. To take plumbing and electricity as an example, it’s easy to see why any building work of this nature needs to have a permit and needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor. Safety must always come first, and it’s in your interests to ensure that those who are living in your property are as safe as possible. 

Why you should get a permit

Apart from reasons of safety and legality, there are plenty of other positive reasons to obtain a permit. 

With a permit, any work that’s carried out must be inspected. This ensures that your contractor is carrying out the work as they should be. They are accountable for their work, and if it doesn’t meet the necessary safety standards you’ll know about it. 

Insurance also has a part to play. If you don’t have a permit for any work that’s carried out, any possible insurance claims that arise from this may not be covered by your insurance policy. This would leave you with a hefty bill. 

If you hope to sell your home in future, it’s also a good idea to have a permit for any work you’ve done to it. Savvy potential buyers will do their research. If it’s found that aspects of your property were built without a permit then your property’s market value will suffer as a result. 

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Do your research, and if you think your project needs a permit – get a permit. If the authorities discover an unauthorized construction that needs a permit, you could be fined or forced to obtain a permit anyway (at a higher rate). You could even be forced to tear down your new renovation altogether. The short-term stress and expenditure is worth the risk when compared with the potential long-term costs.

Peace of mind

Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash

For your own peace of mind, and to ensure that you’re following the letter of the law and that any changes you make are as safe as possible, it’s always best to carry out thorough research on whether a building permit is required for any work you do to your property. There are some mini exterior renovations you can actually try in your property that doesn’t require any permits at all.

Clay Morrison is a freelance researcher and content producer from the UK. Currently, he gives out online lectures to budding researchers in the field of medicine, technology, and real estate. Some of his latest works include research on the effect of vandalism in property sales.

*Contributions are solely guest opinions and don’t reflect the opinions of or are endorsed by WYL, our staff, clients or other interested parties.

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