When is Pulling a Permit Required?

As a home inspector, I come across many homes that have had un-permitted work done. Unfortunately, I would say the majority of remodels or rehabs are un-permitted. This creates a real issue for the buyer and the seller, both financially and legally. Also, when it comes down to it, pulling a permit is important. I hope you’ll find this blog valuable.

So, when should I pull a permit?

  1. It all depends on where you live.
    • The International Residential Building Code (IRC) is the National Code used by all States and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) helps to establish standards within the home construction industry (this is only part of what they do, but check out their website to learn more). However, each State can adopt and use the version they want. Furthermore, each County and sometimes even City or Town will have their own versions of this code. Knowing which year of code and which code jurisdiction you live in is essential in finding out what is required to pull your permit.
  2. It depends on the amount of work.
    • Do you want to do an addition? Pull a permit. Do you want to change a ceiling fan? Hire a licensed and insured contractor and don’t pull a permit. Do you want to install a fence? You may or may not be required to pull a permit. Your code jurisdiction will dictate what is required. There is typically a dollar amount associated with what you’re doing and your jurisdiction will vary. I’ve seen anywhere between $200 and $500 as a starting point for needing a permit. Point is: call your building code enforcement office and ask them.
  3. It depends on the type of work.
    • Are you replacing an distribution panel (commonly known as a breaker panel)? Pull an electrical permit and know that every branch circuit (wire) in your home may need to be replaced.
    • Are you replacing a receptacle? Don’t worry about a permit, but use a licensed and insured electrician. You can wire a receptacle incorrectly and it will still provide power but you have put yourself and your family in danger of an electrical fire.

Now that we’ve covered some basics, let’s talk about the importance of a permit.

  1. It’s about accountability.
    • While I could write for days about the downfalls of today’s Code Enforcement, it does not detract from the fact that pulling a permit will hold your contractor accountable. If they know someone is going to look at their work, they’re more likely to do it right. An extra trip costs them money, both in failure fines and un-paid work.
    • If you pull a permit and a Code Enforcement Official signs off on the work, you can hold the jurisdiction accountable for negligence. Where I live, I know of 3 code jurisdictions that were sued (and lost) based on conditions in a home that was inspected and major items were not found. It’s a long an arduous process that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it can (and has) happen.
  2. It’s about protection.
    • Let’s be real: you don’t REALLY know what you’re talking about when it comes to home construction just like I don’t know jack squat when it comes to a car. Drop the pride and protect yourself by hiring licensed, bonded, and insured people. If you’ve done your research on the requirements for a permit I talked about above and they tell you they don’t need to pull a permit to do your work, RUN! Run far away from those “contractors.” Pulling a permit is a way to protect yourself from shady folks looking to make a quick buck off of your lack of knowledge. Would you let a mechanic “demagnetize your floor mats?” (the answer is no)
  3. It’s about legality.
    • You can be held legally accountable for un-permitted work, even after you sell a home. People sue people today and yes, they will sue you if something is wrong with the home they just bought from you. Suing for Fraud is easy and a good lawyer will get your money. Here’s a legal site I found for more info. 
  4. It’s about money.
    • I already mentioned getting sued – that costs money to defend and, if you lose, pay.
    • You can also be fined by your code jurisdiction. In addition, they could make you remove the addition or remodel to inspect at a certain point. For example: If you build an un-permitted addition, they could require you to remove the sheetrock and insulation so they can check the framing and get you to provide an engineer letter to certify the soils are properly compacted and that the footing depth is accurate. Talk about expensive. This, again, depends on the jurisdiction.
    • If you buy a house with an addition that was not permitted, you can be fined in multiple areas through the code enforcement office and the assessor’s office in property taxes. Your taxes go up partly based on the square feet in your home; you better believe the government wants their money.

Lastly, hire a licensed, bonded, and insured home inspector (like me) to be an extra set of eyes for your project. Code Enforcement officials miss stuff just as easily as your contractor could. Bringing me in is an extra level of accountability. Believe me I’ve seen the buddy-buddy system: “I know you and have worked with you before and I “trust” you so I’m going to half inspect this work and call it a day.” Code Enforcement inspectors won’t crawl in tight crawl spaces (or sometimes at all) and won’t climb around in attics. Here is my big example (of many to choose from) and I’ll close this blog out:

I did an inspection for a small, 1920’s home that had been completely remodeled. They ripped out all of the sheetrock, wiring, plumbing, HVAC, you name it. The lady selling the house hired a “contractor” who actually pulled a permit. The job cost her about $50k from what I was told. When I got there to inspect the home for my client, the buyer, I was so shocked at what I found. The HVAC company had cut out roof rafters to install their system in the attic and, quite frankly, I’m not sure how that section of the roof hadn’t fallen in, but the roof was sagging. I found holes in the walls inside that showed no insulation on the exterior wall. I found zero insulation under the floor in the crawl space. The very tight crawl space had an enormous amount of wood rot and fungal growth. There were “piers” made up of scrap pieces of wood. There was even a floor joist secured to another with 2 wing nut screws. Those examples aren’t even close to all of the stuff I found there. I felt so badly for the seller. She actually called me and wondered why I had done her so wrong on the report because she had a licensed contractor and had it inspected. Sadly, she lost the deal with my client and likely lost more money to get the items repaired by another contractor as she told me later that she had zero trust for who she hired to do it right.

Long story short, pull a permit, hire licensed, bonded, and insured contractors, and hire Freedom to check up on all of them.

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