Featured News 2014 When Do You Need a Building Permit?

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

If you want to build an addition, pull off a remodeling project, or if you have found out that such building projects have already been done on your property without a permit, do you need to go get a permit? The answer is to be found in your region's laws, according to the specifics of your situation. You'll find the best answer when you talk directly with a local real estate attorney, but for the time being, here is an overview of when building permits can become an issue for homeowners.

Before Starting a Home Improvement Project

In all likelihood, your project needs a building permit, authorizing your project and ensuring that it lines up with local building codes. Usually speaking, this means that you before you get going, you will need to:

  • Fill out a permit application
  • Draft a site plan (bigger projects may need an architect or someone else qualified to draw up the plans to show the city the project is up to code)
  • Set an appointment to get plan approval. You may be told to amend your plans.
  • Collect your permit!
  • You'll still have to schedule inspections; the city wants to know that you stick to the approved plans
  • Finish your project. Get the city's stamp of approval.

You will have to consult your local laws (or a local legal expert) to find out what the process looks like in your city, and which projects your county mandates you get permits for. If you are hiring a contractor for the project, you should be wary of someone who advises you skip past all this fuss and build anyway. If you end up starting an unpermitted building project, your work could be forced to stop, or you could be heavily fined. The good news is, if you are hiring a good contractor, they will know your area's laws, and they may be able to handle all this paperwork for you (but if they charge you an hourly fee, you may want to take care of the permit yourself).

When You Find Unpermitted Construction on Your Property Before Selling

Then there is the issue of disclosure when you sell a house. You may get the nasty surprise that a previous owner went rogue and did construction or renovation work without a permit. So what does that mean for you the seller? First, if you think that there was unpermitted construction, look at the original blueprints of the house and see if the present day structure is different. Once you have pinpointed the spot where a project was done, you can find out if this was a job that needed a permit. Most jobs do, as city's have safety codes for a reason. Then you need to find out if there was a permit. You can do this at your local building department, or hopefully, find the data you need online.

Required Disclosures

Did you find out that the construction project was unpermitted? You do not have to, nor do you want to disclose the fact to the city. This means that you should be careful as you do the above research, because if the city catches wind of the unpermitted construction, you will have no choice but to get a permit. You may want to get the permit anyway, but ideally it will be your decision. Your other option is to sell the house as-is. Whatever option you take, you will have to tell every possible buyer about this issue. This even needs to be disclosed on your house's listings. This might lower the selling price, or scare buyers off, but you can still sell your house as-is.

Getting a Permit After the Fact

Not every city has retroactive permits, unfortunately, but you should see if your city is the exception. If you can go through retroactive permitting, then you will not have to undo the entire construction project to show that it is up to code. Since you are not to blame for the unpermitted project, the city will probably try to work with you to clear the issue up, without facing fines or rigid deadlines. Unfortunately, you will probably have to uncover some, if not all of the construction (an expensive business), and this on top of the other costs of getting the permit. You may want to talk to a contractor about this process and how much it would take to get the unpermitted project up to code, so you can then get the permit.

Where will the money for the permit come from? That depends on whether or not you should have known already about the unpermitted construction. Did the previous homeowner disclose it to you? Should an inspector or real estate agent have caught the unpermitted project? Someone else could be held liable. Perhaps your title insurance will cover the costs, but this is only if you have premium title insurance, and you follow its instructions to the letter.

These legal matters can quickly become quite complex, and a good deal of money and time are likely at stake. You do not want any mistakes to exacerbate the situation either. It is in your best interests to consult a real estate attorney in this important matter. Make the right decisions for your future. Look through our directory today to find the local real estate lawyer who can inform you on your area's laws concerning permits, and who can advise you on the best course to take in a potentially tricky matter.

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