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Who needs a building permit for a renovation?

October 12, 2021

UPDATED – Now and then, I will visit a prospective customer, and they will ask if a building permit is necessary. I find it a curious question considering the amount of construction horror stories on TV. But, even more, interesting is that many of these homes are well over a million dollars and homeowners are willing to shortcut and risk their home for a renovation.

One big myth is that the renovation project will cost more. Yes, it does, but Permits are a nominal cost and usually amount to 0.5 to 1% of the renovation contract. But what about the work? In my experience, if your trades are journeymen, the cost is about the same. However, if your preference is for a couple of guys working out of the back of a van that can “do it all,” then yes, it will cost more. Just be sure to wear a helmet and carry around a fire extinguisher in your newly renovated home.

The Risks of a renovation without a building permit

1. Home becomes uninsurable or now has much higher premiums
Without a permit, renovations will not be verified, by a third party, if done to building code. Insurance companies could consider it a greater risk for fire, flood or collapse.

2. Home becomes unsalable
Renovations, especially significant ones, done without a permit is a red flag to buyers. Verifying trade work done to code can be costly. Repairs or adjustments to suit code or zoning can be just as much as the actual renovation. Don’t be surprised if the buyer asks for a significant discount (or walks away)

3 Safety
Building codes are for the benefit and safety of homeowners. 99% of people (and frankly some renovation contractors) do not know the current building code. Building and trade inspectors are your third party to ensure work is to code, giving you and your family the peace of mind that your home is safe.

To permit or not to permit is further complicated by contractors who say, “we will do it to code, just won’t pull a permit.” My response is to pull a permit. A contractor that tries to sway an owner from using a Permit is very likely unaware of the current code.  If he does know, then why the fear or concerns of pulling a Permit? As well-intentioned as a contractor might be, they are human and will make mistakes. Truthfully, we sometimes make mistakes, and thankfully, we have an inspector who will put the second set of eyes on the work.

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