10

We live in a single family home and are doing a renovation of our kitchen and adjoining room. We are not making any architectural changes. For the kitchen, we are adding electrical circuits and sockets, adding a water line to the new fridge location, moving the gas connection to the stove, and adding venting for the exhaust hood. For the adjoining room/space we are adding water lines, drainage, exhaust, and electrical for laundry. We are also changing the existing hot water heater to a tankless and moving it outside.

The contractor that we are working with is licensed. Everything will be renovated to code.

Do I really need to get permits for all of the work that is being done?

What are the pros/cons for getting a permit? What are the pros/cons for not getting a permit.

update I checked the permitting fee schedule and there's basically a fee ... Examples:

Electrical
1. Clothes dryer - $14.70
2. Dishwasher - $14.70
3. Switches/Outlets - $3.40 each

Plumbing
1. Dishwasher - $22.60
2. Kitchen Sink with disposal - $22.60

Etc.

16

Where I live if you do not get a permit and the local authority having jurisdiction finds out about it, they could do any (or all) of a number of things:

  • make you tear it all out
  • impose fines
  • get permits after the fact
  • declare your dwelling uninhabitable

If you ever want to sell your home, you must declare the un-permitted work, which could affect the price.

  • 3
    Also, depending on where you happen to live, it's likely that your city has some pretty sophisticated techniques for catching people who build without permits. They'll use satellite photos to detect exterior work, and real estate listings to detect interior. A lot of places have full-time staff who just check-up on these things. No doubt, sometimes, it's likely just a cash grab by the city, but it's likely to be far less cost to pay it than to not pay it. – Rob P. Aug 21 '16 at 18:49
  • In California it is typical for a buyer to get an inspection from a licensed individual and the inspector will check to see if recent work has been permitted and inspected. – 42- Feb 18 at 21:10
9

Just to add to Jimmy Fit-it's excellent answer...

You have a licensed contractor that's willing to break the law. (He knows it, you know it, now everybody on the internets knows it.) What does that tell you about how they do business? Are they asking to be paid in cash as well? Do you think they might possibly cut a few corners, since they don't have any of that pesky oversight from the AHJ? Do you feel like they'll honor their warranty?

Yes, permits are a PITA. They cost money. They have to be scheduled, which slows the project down. Some inspectors are great; others are just terrible human beings and when you occasionally get ones from the latter category, they cause undue trouble to everyone and everything.

Still, I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

9

While contemplating some electrical work (replacement of the breaker box), I called the city's inspection/permit department and asked them,

Q: Why should I get a permit?

A: Because it is required by (city ordinance).

Q: If I don't have a permit and something electrical goes wrong and my house burns down, will the fire department charge or cite me?

A: No, they don't do that. They put the fire out for free to keep the neighborhood from burning.

Q: Well, would the insurance company not pay a claim if it was not permitted or inspected?

A: No, they don't care. They just look for a loophole in coverage as a reason not to pay. Permits and/or inspection is not a requirement of any insurance that I know of.

Q: When I sell the house, is the home inspector or real estate company going to cause me any trouble?

A: No, they don't have any way to know if it needed a permit or inspection or not. Lots of houses are sold which are not code compliant.

Q: Is there anything else I should be concerned about?

A: Well, you would be out of compliance with (city code).

Me: Okay, thank you very much. You have helped a lot in deciding the right thing to do.


I have lots of experience doing electrical work, and it was done in a very safe manner. It never did explode or smoke, and the eventual house sale (years later) proceeded effortlessly.

A later project was to install a fireplace insert. At the time I was unfamiliar with natural gas appliances and plumbing, so I arranged for a permit and inspection for that house when installing a gas fireplace insert, work performed by an appropriate contractor, though I left the enclosure work for after inspection.

The fireplace contractor left the pressure test rig for about two weeks because that was how long it took the inspector to eventually show up. The inspector was hesitant to enter the living room. I urged him to come all the way in to give it a thorough inspection since I had little idea if it was a really good install or not. I let him borrow a flashlight so he could really get in there and see well.

He was about to sign off the paperwork, but I stopped him and asked if he wanted to look at the gas line going in the back of the fireplace and the vent tubing and chimney cap. He said "okay". We walked outside and again, I had to urge him to walk all the way to look at the pipe and gauge. I don't think he knew what he was doing because he did not understand what the gauge was showing, so I explained it to him. Then I asked about the chimney. He backed up enough to see it, but said it looked fine and he did not have a ladder anyway.

He told me the permit he was signing off was conditional in that I had to finish the surround.... As though I wanted the centerpiece of my living room to look unfinished....

The permit and inspection provided absolutely no value. For what it is worth.

  • 7
    Not trying to dispute that you were told something by the individual at the AHJ, but I respectfully disagree with two of the points. I think some insurance companies would view illegal work as grounds to deny a claim. And while lots of houses are sold as-is/where-is, inspectors do have the ability to know when work was done and what codes/requirements were in place at the time. The typical result is a discount to make up for unforeseen/questionable quality issues. – Aloysius Defenestrate Aug 21 '16 at 15:51
9

Well, step one is to find out what the town considers needing a permit.

Usually gas line changes need to be inspected and many cases need to be permitted. The plumber should take care of getting the necessary inspection.

The other changes do not sound like they need permits, but check your town rules. Generally, only stuff that changes the structure of a building or involves something dangerous, like a furnace or gas line, needs to be permitted. If you are using a contractor, it's really not your call anyway since the contractor is supposed to take care stuff like that. His ass is way more on the line than yours.

The only time I have seen a permit problem is when some jerkoff got a permit to "renovate a kitchen" and then proceeded to tear the whole house down and try to turn it into townhouses. Every single hippy in Cambridgeport (including myself) complained about it to the building department, and the town wrapped the whole place in plastic and put a "stop work" order on it. That was Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the most INSANE and anal permitting jurisdictions in the United States. If you are doing interior stuff and no structure, just make sure the gas fitting is inspected and approved and you are probably OK.

One final warning: this assumes you are in a detached, single family home. If you are in a building, or in a duplex or are in any way connected to a neighbor, you better make sure that either: (1) everything is correct, or (2) your neighbors are on board and have no objection to what you are doing, because if you skip permits and then proceed to annoy a neighbor, they can shut you down hard and make your life very expensive by complaining.

  • 3
    Comment on: "If you are using a contractor, it's really not your call anyway since the contractor is supposed to take care stuff like that." In some jurisdictions, it can be the homeowners responsibility to get the permits if it is not listed in the contract. I always make sure that the contract includes getting permits and the required inspections to make it clear who is responsible. – statueuphemism Aug 22 '16 at 14:45
5

I would first find out what most people do in your area. While the rules almost always call for pulling permits, the reality is often very different. Where I live the unspoken rule is this: don't pull a permit unless you are building an addition of tearing down/building walls.

Pros: 1) If you don't know much about construction it is a good idea to make sure the contractor is not cutting corners or doing something that may put you or your property in danger.

2) In many locales you may face negative consequences if caught or when selling the house

3) It is the law - some people are very uncomfortable breaking the law even if it is not enforced (e.g. voluntarily paying state sales tax on online purchases)

Cons:

1) Cost/time. Even if everything goes smoothly, it may cost you many hundreds of $ in fees as several days of delays. Often you have to schedule weeks in advance and can't close the walls until inspections are done

2) The inspector may discover unpermitted work done by previous owner (even if done to code) and you can be responsible for fees/fines

3) If you live in an older building be careful with rules concerning grandfathering. They are often unclear and the inspectors themselves don't fully understand them. A friend of mine lives in a house built in 1800s and when she tried to pull a permit to do something minor, the inspector noticed a staircase that was not up to code. The only real way to fix the issue was to demolish the house and start over (that was also not an option because the house is in the historic district :) ). After many months and thousands of $ spent on legal fees she won the court battle and was allowed to keep her staircase but that was a very $$$ permit.

4

This is strictly a Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (LAHJ) question, in that it varies and can be completely different simply by crossing a town or state line.

Most places I have lived would not require a building permit since you are not altering the structure (moving walls and doorways).

If you were doing the electrical work yourself (on your own detached, single-family home), the main area I work in would not require permitting, and they also don't generally require a permit for a licensed electrician in a detached single family home. Businesses (other than farms using farm labor) or multiple dwelling units are a whole other ballgame. Travel 4 miles and you need permits coming out of your wazoo for the exact same jobs.

Again, in one area the plumber is assumed to know what the deal is with gas as part of the plumbers training, and that's that, and the other side of the line you have permits for that as well.

Most places that require permits have VERY HARSH rules for those that operate without the required permits. Like $50 a day from the time the work was done without a permit to the time the proper permit is pulled and the work is done over to suit them - which means every day they nitpick over your belated permit application is another $50 to their kitty, and if you did it 3 months before you got caught you're looking at nigh onto $5000 for a permit that might have cost $50 in the first place.

1

The best (and possibly only) way to know if you need a permit, is to contact your local building department. Most folks at the building department are happy to answer such questions for homeowners, and are often willing to provide details and documents to help homeowners complete home improvement projects safely.

Source- @Tester101: Does a homeowner need a permit for electrical work in Massachusetts?

1

What are the pros/cons for NOT getting a permit?

Cons - death, lawsuit, re-doing it all, lien, foreclosure, HOA violation, condemnation, stop work order, insurance not covering you for liability or catastrophe, etc. It costs money up front.

Pros - Saving a couple of bucks and a few days up front.

  • It seems like you've got those swapped... – Joshua Taylor Aug 21 '16 at 19:43
  • 4
    That doesn't quite seem fixed. I think it was fine before, except that the pros and cons were for not getting a permit. The pro of not getting a permit is that you save a few bucks. The cons are death, etc. – Joshua Taylor Aug 21 '16 at 22:39
  • Rolled back to original. – Chris Cudmore Aug 22 '16 at 14:30
  • @ChrisCudmore That doesn't fix it either. I don't have enough rep to edit without pushing into a review queue, but (assuming limits are the same across the network) you do. Could you change the header to "What are the pros/cons for not getting a permit?" (added "not")? Then it makes sense. – Joshua Taylor Aug 22 '16 at 21:37

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