To Get a Permit or Not to Get One

65 Replies

I am renovating my primary home that I plan to live in for 10+ year and probably much longer than that. We have had multiple contractors and others suggest maybe not getting permits due to the fact that the house is in an area that is somewhat isolated and often overlooked when it comes to building permit regulation. The house itself sits over 100 feet off the road which is not very well traveled.

I am not adding any square footage or removing any structural beams as far as I know at this point, but we are renovating nearly everything.

From my understanding below are the pros and cons. Is any of this inaccurate or unlikely or am I missing anything? Do you have any experience with this? What would you do?

Please give me your real world thoughts.

Pros To Getting Them:

1) Ensures contractor is following codes for potential better quality and safety

2) It could be easier to refinance and sell

Cons to Getting Them:

1) My taxes will likely go up

2) It will add a lot of time to our project

3) It will add a lot of cost to our project

4) It will take up a lot of my time because I would be pulling them

Pros to Not Getting Them:

1) The renovation could be completed much quicker and it will save me a lot of time

2) I will save money on taxes and permitting fees (including some permit requirements which might not actually make much of a difference)

Cons to Not Getting Them:

1) It could prevent a sale in the future - Is this even accurate? I haven't looked into permits for work done in houses that I have bought (maybe was a mistake), but looking for the real world answer here not the "by the book" answer

2) It could affect a refinance - Is this even true?

3) I could be fined. - This isn't clear on what the fines would be online. Any details on that?

4) The house could be less safe

5) My homeowners insurance deny a claim if they tie a fire or other issue to not having building permits. - Is this likely?

Are you doing the renovations your self or hiring a contractor?  If you are hiring a contractor, MAKE THEM GET THE PERMIT; DO NOT GET THE PERMIT FOR THEM.  If you are hiring a contractor, and they request/require you to get the permit, do not use that contractor. I would question if they are actually licensed/insured in that case.  If you pull the permit, you will ultimately be responsible when they don't do the work to code.  

No matter who is doing the work though, I would get the permit.  It will add a couple of weeks onto the project, a small increase to the overall cost of the project, but in the long run you won't have to worry about things in the future.  

I am waiting for the permit for a small project I am doing.  It is adding about $300.00 onto the total $12,000.00 cost, and about 2 weeks to the timeframe waiting for the permit approval.  

I am working with a handymen with great references (not licensed) to get the work done. It will be around $40,000 in labor and $40-50,000 in materials. 

You should get permits if required by your local government. It can be done by the homeowner if you trust the handyman. 40k seems like a large job for a handyman unless he has a crew but if you check the references and have a solid contract it might be okay. It is not that much more of a cost for permits but it does become a pain paying the fees. Since you spending 90k, another 1200 or less doesn’t seem to be an issue. Also you will be kicking yourself in ten years when your house is worth a lot more and some buyer is asking for all of the work to be verified and asking for discounts on the sale price.

Picture this , you get 3/4 of the way thru , you and your contractor have a disagreement . He calls the permit office and turns you in .     Have fun with that .

For that kind of money you should be getting everything permitted and you should have an iron clad contract. If it was a water heater and bathroom remodel, then ya you could probably get away without a permit but 100k?! That's another house or 2 in most parts of the country. I am all about doing things cheaply but I would not trust that type of investment to an unlicensed handyman no matter how many good reviews he gets. 

Also another con you didn't list is that if you get caught not only will you pay fines but the city will make you tear it all out. 

First off, you need to know the laws in your state, and find out what the fines are for doing work without a permit. Is it worth it?  It doesn't matter who pulls the permit, you pay for it. If you don't do the work with a permit, how are you going to feel when you spend thousands of dollars on improvements and the building inspector happens on by and makes you take all of the improvements out? Or something unforeseen comes up and you need to sell your home, but you can't get financial credit for the additions because it's all unpermited, or the buyer wants things to be permitted, etc. 

Get the permit. 

Here in Oregon if you own a house and are planning on fixing it and then selling it, or if you're building a spec house, even if you hire a licensed general contractor to do the work and he uses all licensed subs, you not only have to pull permits, but must be licensed as a developer (if you're hiring a general) or if you're doing work on the job, be licensed as a GC. It's nuts. 

I agree with Jonathan Smith, this is a large job for a handyman.  And the fact he isn't licensed adds more concern to the whole project for me.  I don't care how great his references are, I would not be using him.  You will have little to no recourse if something went wrong.  You will be responsible  for any code violations that he did, and if anything happens while he is working, damages something, gets hurt, you may be personally responsible and your homeowners insurance may not cover it because you are using an unlicensed contractor.  At the very least make sure he is insured.

If you are in Boulder like your profile said, the fine if caught by the city it looks like is twice the permit fee, plus they can make you remove whatever work you completed they need so they can do the inspections that were not done.

Best way is to pull the permit with homeowner builder permit. It will still get inspected.and it is legal that way.  And you are still able to keep the cost down by not hiring the license contractor.  Sure it will cost you some times and some permit fee.  But since you are paying 90k for the remodeling. What is the cost for that addional couple thousands permit fee then ?

By not pulling permit. You are risking your house's value and risking the possibility that your city might want u to tear everything out.

@Brian M.

One more con for not going the permit route on a job that big is that as an operating investor in the area you live in, you risk incurring the long-term wrath of code enforcement and thereby losing a great deal of money in the future.

I am renovating a 3500 ft2 duplex in the heart of a municipality, right next to the municipal building. The chief code enforcement official for the municipality parks his car in a place where he can see the front lawn of the duplex. I own three property in that municipality and plan to buy more and hopefully operate in the municipality for the next twenty years or so. This same code official has carried out two occupancy inspections for me and has issued me a building permit in the past.

Consequently, when he says jump, I ask how high, and when he says s***, I ask what color. If this individual catches me in some kind of silly code violation he has the power to simply crush me for the rest of my investing career both in the municipality and put me up as an offender in the list all the local enforcement officials in my greater metro area share. I'm dead in a five-county area if that happens.

Permitting for anything residential is a no brainer. It's doing commercial jobs or anything over 4 units that becomes an issue. This is due to handicap accessibility compliance in entrances and bathrooms, hard pipe vs pvc and pex for plumbing, sprinkler fire protection requirements, and stamped plans with a chapter 34 review to acquire a permit. These items are enough to make an entire deal go upside down. Tread carefully.

I'll pile on to the "get the permit crowd".

Originally posted by @Brian M. :

I am working with a handymen with great references (not licensed) to get the work done. It will be around $40,000 in labor and $40-50,000 in materials. 

What all are you doing?

I have pulled the permits on some occasions, and when using a GC he/she pulls the permits. But we always pull permits as required. With a GC there is the dance of keeping them looking for the next installment, once you allow them to get ahead they may never come back. So make sure you have checked them out and be in control of the money at every phase. Also the Building Department at the town or county you are located will pretty much  tell you which GC they like to issue permits to and those who try to pull the wool over their eyes. Find that out, it may prove helpful as you proceed.

@Jill F. All new windows (some larger, some removed), new floors and paint, removing a few walls that aren't structural, two net baths, making a basement into a room, closing off another room by extending the floor a little and adding a very small piece of wall, adding a swamp cooler, new water heater, vapor barrier, replacing kitchen cabinets, adding tub in one of the bathrooms, moving toilet bowls a little, adding a larger deck, etc etc

@Brian M.

Get the permit. To echo what has been said earlier in this thread - if you are going to spend upwards of 90k you can afford the money and the time it takes to get a permit. I would also be very hesitant to trust a handyman (good references or not) with a job that big. Professionals get licensed, end of story.

Originally posted by @Brian M. :

@Jill F. All new windows (some larger, some removed), new floors and paint, removing a few walls that aren't structural, two net baths, making a basement into a room, closing off another room by extending the floor a little and adding a very small piece of wall, adding a swamp cooler, new water heater, vapor barrier, replacing kitchen cabinets, adding tub in one of the bathrooms, moving toilet bowls a little, adding a larger deck, etc etc

I think I would act as general on that kind of job and split it up into small jobs and pay as I go.

The majority of those projects would not require a permit here; however, I don't know about where your are. Here assuming the water heater and swamp cooler are replacements probably only the windows would have to be permitted. For the interior bathroom work none of the local plumbers here (and I mean big companies) would even mention permitting on a remodel unless you specifically ask them to.

id say definitely get the permit , if you do ever decide to sell youll likely have to get the property inspected and if they notice any of these changes theyll look for the permits for them and when they see there are none youll have a HUGE problem on your hands and likely have to bring everything to code and have it inspected prior to the pass of the inspection, also with so many different styles of trades involved one "handyman" shouldnt be doing them all . remember the saying "jack of all trades , master of none" this sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen to me and ive been a plumber for 5 years , the permits are there to protect the home owners and make sure everything is safe and working properly, would you really risk safty and functionally for a few thousand dollars?

I have a general rule for contractors.  If they suggest no permit, find another contractor.  Now, experienced ones might be pointing out old work that is clearly not to code, and will add cost/time to remedy, suggesting you could get by with it, but if you get a permit, it becomes "in scope".  Then again, do you want to live in a house with that....?  Have them estimate the cost if you are unable to get a variance.

Unless you are a construction professional, I would want an "expert" verifying the pros didn't make a mistake or willfully cut corners on work you paid for.  Inspectors are generally your friend and save you money long term.

@Brian M.   Another aspect to not getting a permit to consider.

Here in my market and maybe in yours, sellers who fill out the "seller's statement of property condition" or are asked by a buyer must disclose any unpermitted work that was done.

If you fail to disclose and the buyer finds out, you've opened yourself up for a lawsuit.

Originally posted by @Brian M. :

@Jill F. All new windows (some larger, some removed), new floors and paint, removing a few walls that aren't structural, two net baths, making a basement into a room, closing off another room by extending the floor a little and adding a very small piece of wall, adding a swamp cooler, new water heater, vapor barrier, replacing kitchen cabinets, adding tub in one of the bathrooms, moving toilet bowls a little, adding a larger deck, etc etc

Much of this will require a permit. And if you're in Boulder like your profile says, get comfy. It takes FOREVER to pull permits in Boulder. But if you get caught without one - and that scope of work, you're getting caught - you will pay hefty fines. 

Boulder is not a city to mess around with. There was a story recently where a homeowner removed something in his back yard to make a basketball court, got caught and had to put it all back the way it originally was. (He was either in the historic district or the house had a designation, but still. Lots of money being spent.)

Do NOT do any work in Boulder without a permit. I promise you will get caught and I promise you will regret it.

Boulder county or city of? In a normal situation I’d agree with everyone else here that you should get a permit and that the handyman recommending not getting a permit is dubious. However in our area it’s common for contractors to skip getting a permit simply because permitting can be downright next to impossible and unaffordable. I’ve had a lot of projects fall through because the permitting dept. They often require expensive upgrades such as sprinklers (~$10k), energy efficincy upgrades like expensive windows, insulation, solar panels, HERS rating requirements, etc. A lot of Colorado contractors won’t even work in Boulder. On top of the headache and expense, permitting can take forever and contractors can’t afford to wait months on end. So I can understand better than others on here why you’d consider doing cowboy style work. That said, if you’re not adding square footage and don’t trigger the the site plan review process, it might not be that bad to pull a permit in your situation. You’d  be required to use high quality energy efficient windows, but you’d probably want to use good windows anyway. In my experience permitting only gets very onerous when adding 1’000ft2 or more which triggers the dreaded Site Plan Review (SPR). I’d talk to a few more contractors, see if you can find one with enough local experience to tell you if you’d have to do the SPR or not, and have them put together a bid with permitting included to compare to your estimate going cowboy style. Fees for unpermitted work are hefty (twice the regular permit fee), and the enforcement division is definitely out and about, and they will definitely make you rip out any unpermitted work if you get caught, so consider the risk by all means. But you wouldn’t be the only one going cowboy style round here, especially in the mountains. 

Hi @Steve K. I am in Boulder County. Not in the mountains, but a rural area.

I didn't read the comments but the question is this - do you want to potentially have to dig into walls to prove your house was built correctly with adequate vapor barriers, plumbing and electrical to code?  If you are OK taking this risk, you may be fine without permits.

To me this is a no-brainer - not pulling permits is only going to open you up to contractors who are cutting corners and potential hassles down the road.  I have seen them open walls to verify things were completed correctly and on a property I owned they thought we did a bunch of plumbing work so we had to cut a couple holes to prove we didn't.

To your comment s on the following:

1.  Save time - Not sure about your area but where I operate if I called today someone would be out for an inspection tomorrow.

2.  You would have to pull them - This is completely false.  Your contractors should be pulling their own permits, if they are having you pull them it is a clear indication that they are not licensed and cannot pull the permits.  That is just part of the job.  The general pulls the building permit, plumber pulls the plumbing permit, etc.

3.  Save money - In my experience the cost of permits is a VERY small cost in a job.  The cost in not doing so is that a contractor is going to charge you as if they are doing the job correctly and you will have to hope and pray that they did.  Consider this a tax on your project.  By avoiding the tax you open yourself to a lot greater cost on the back end.

You mention that you aren't making any structural changes that you know about (at this point), well if you look at the city code non-structural repairs may not require a permit.  City code should tell you what you have to pull a permit for.

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