Do I Need a Construction Permit?

Do I Need a Construction Permit?
  • Opening Intro -

    Many homeowners are running afoul of the law, but aren't aware that they are doing something wrong.

    They're handling a home renovation project themselves and think that by moving a bathroom or kitchen sink, permits are not needed.


Unfortunately, these homeowners may be doing something wrong and if caught they could pay fines and penalties. Getting caught seems nearly impossible – how would the town know? Many times the “getting caught” part happens years later when the homeowner undertakes a newer, larger renovation project such as a new roof or room addition and the town inspector must stop by to review the work.

Required Construction Permits

Inspectors won’t only look at the job being done, but they may look for signs of other changes that have been made. This is particularly so in locales where the inspector must visit a home before it changes hands. In these cases the town will require that past permits and penalties be paid before the home can be sold.

You likely know that all new construction requires a permit. This is a no brainer and something every contractor anticipates before he begins his work. The supposed “gray area” for homeowners often involves what they do in their homes – out of sight of building inspectors. Moving a sink seems like a simple project, but your town may require a permit. Homeowners are sometimes confused by the rules – why do I need a permit to replace a water heater and not for replacing a toilet?

Town Building Departments

That’s where getting to know your building department and its rules is important. Contact your town’s building department, explain your project to the inspector and ask what permits are needed. You’ll find out if your project requires a permit, how to get one, what it will cost and whether you need to hang your permit in your home’s window or other conspicuous place.

Let’s take a look at projects that might require a permit: a new roof, changing your home’s roof line, removing a load-bearing wall, expanding the footprint of your home, enclosing a garage, installing a fence higher than six feet tall, replacing electrical wiring or placing a dumpster in your driveway to handle all the stuff you’re throwing out as you gut your kitchen.

Now let’s take a look at projects that probably won’t require a permit: replacement of lighting and plumbing fixtures, with the exception of anything being moved. Wallpapering and painting, certain decks and platforms, installing carpeting or hardwood floors, new siding or replacing windows and doors. Speaking of decks, the city of San Diego is more lenient when it comes to replacing them, however the village of Ridgewood (N.J.) require a permit.

Homeowners Association Rules

Keep this in mind too: your town’s building department may not have too many restrictions, but if you’re home is within a community association, those rules could be tougher. Just see if your association appreciates that ugly dumpster sitting in the middle of your driveway day after day. Your compact will outline the rules, but you may have to get association approval to do any work on your home. And you thought the town’s rules were onerous!

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Categories: Home Renovation

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".