What are the possible repercussions if someone doesn't get a building permit when doing a renovation? I have heard many people I know say they never got a building permit to get "x" done and they have never had any issues.

NOTE: I'm not talking about a new building construction but rather getting work done on an existing residential building. Wisconsin would be the state to use as a location reference.

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    Please indicate your location. This could vary from "nothing" to "complete teardown of what you did".
    – JPhi1618
    Jan 22, 2016 at 17:02
  • @JPhi1618 made edits for location
    – Programmer
    Jan 22, 2016 at 17:04
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    Ever going to sell? The potential buyer will take it out of your hide. (And why wouldn't they? It's reasonable to assume that someone afraid of a building permit doesn't know what they're doing.) Jan 23, 2016 at 3:20
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1 Answer 1


This varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It also depends on what kind of work and how much.

In many locations, minor electrical work, in-kind plumbing replacement, interior construction that does not change the overall footprint or the number or types of bedrooms, bathrooms, etc, (such as the building of a closet in an existing room) need no permit. However, some locales may require new installations to come up to a newer code level than those that they replace. You really need to check with your local building department to see what is allowed without permit and when permits are required.

Failure to get a permit for work that requires one could result in a stop work order if the building authority learns of the project. It also could result in the property not having a valid certificate of occupancy, which could make selling the property difficult. It also might compromise your relationship with your lender. Finally, it may put your insurance coverage at risk if a claim is based on the work done in violation of permit regulation.

Often if work is not done based on a permit, it can later be corrected by filing a new application, submitting plans and paying a penalty in addition to the regular fees. But there is a risk that the plans will not meet the standards when the permit is eventually filed, and may fail, requiring a redo.

Your best bet is to check and see what is required before starting on a renovation. Then you can make an informed decision.

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    In some places if work is done without a permit, the owner can be fined daily until the property is back to the way it was before the work began. In some situations, the fines can be retroactive back to when the work began. Though I'm not sure how often that happens in residential work. Also not having a certificate of occupancy, may not only be a problem when selling a property. It can also be a problem when you're trying to live in the building.
    – Tester101
    Jan 22, 2016 at 21:17
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    @Tester101 Absolutely. In many residential areas, the penalty for failing to get permits is double the permit cost. If an unpermitted building is deemed unsafe, it may be ordered shut until the violations are cured, and that may await approval of the unsubmitted plans.
    – bib
    Jan 22, 2016 at 22:24
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    The other possible repercussion is that if you did something that would normally require inspection and then finished over it, some jurisdictions will make you tear it out back to a point they can inspect. I.e., sheetrocking over something that would have required an insulation or electrical inspection.
    – Comintern
    Jan 22, 2016 at 23:37

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