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Why You Need Permits for Home Construction

Updated on February 18, 2016

For all but the simplest home improvement or remodeling projects, you will probably need to pull permits as part of the construction process. This may seem like a hassle, but the point of the permitting process is to ensure safety. It’s a step that can help you avoid hazards and headaches down the road.

When you pull permits, you’re required to give the building department details on the scope and the specifics of your project. The building department then reviews your plans to make sure they’re up to current building codes and comply with local ordinances such as those regarding setbacks, easements, and limits on building height. Think of this step as a double-check before actual work begins—a mistake discovered at this stage, before you start, will be far less expensive to fix than one discovered in the midst of building.

Depending on the scope of your project, the building department may send out inspectors several times to verify that the work being done conforms to your plans and is up to code. This has benefits beyond just your own peace of mind. If unpermitted and uninspected work is done on your home, and that work later causes damage—such as an electrical fire or a catastrophic plumbing leak—your insurance company may not have to pay to fix that damage. And of course, a mistake caught by the inspector can be more easily corrected than it might be once everything is finished and sealed up.

Unpermitted work can also make it harder to sell your house in the future. According to Sea Pointe Construction in Orange County, you will have to disclose any unpermitted work done on the property to potential sellers, who may not want to deal with the expense and headache of getting that work permitted retroactively, an expensive and time-consuming process. In addition, homeowners are ultimately responsible for the work done on their property. A buyer may not want to take the risk that the unpermitted work you had done is substandard or even potentially dangerous.

If you’re not sure if your intended upgrade requires a permit, call the building department and inquire—although chances are, if you’re adding square footage, adding or making changes to electrical or plumbing systems, or changing the use of existing space (as in adding a bathroom or finishing an attic), the answer is going to be yes. If you begin work without getting the proper permits and get caught, construction can be shut down until you have your paperwork in order. You may also be hit with fines, which can be substantially more expensive than regular permit costs, or have to tear out finished work to allow a full inspection.

An experienced contractor can pull the necessary permits for you. In fact, they will most likely have a much better idea than you will of exactly what information the building department needs regarding your project. If, on the other hand, your contractor discourages you from pulling a permit or says you don’t need one, be wary. Getting the proper permits and inspections is your ounce of prevention against potentially expensive fixes, so don’t consider skipping this step. You’ll be happy you didn’t cut corners when your project is done and you have the confidence—and the third-party verification of permitting—that it was done right.

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