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The Home Depot

Ins and Outs of Building Permits

Pro Referral > Home Guides > General Contracting > Ins and Outs of Building Permits
Ins and Outs of Building Permits

Unlike building codes, which lay out guidelines for how a project should be performed and present specific stipulations on individual facets of the job, building permits are a documents stating that you have permission from the local authorities to perform a specific project. In some areas of the country, a project that begins without the proper permits is likely to be shut down immediately. In others, a permit may not be necessary for many common projects. Though the rules definitely vary from place to place, there are certain elements of effectively acquiring the proper permits that are not likely to change much, no matter where you live.

  1. Conversion, construction, erection, structural demolition, and similar tasks will almost always require a permit.

    1.What Projects Require a Permit?

    Unless you live in a county where building permits are not required by local authorities (counties that are few and far between), just about any moderate or major home improvement will require a permit. Projects that involve conversion, construction, erection, structural demolition, and similar tasks will almost always require a permit. Some common exceptions include playhouses, tool sheds, fences under 6 feet tall, temporary partitions, and non-structural walks/pathways. It is important, however, to check with local authorities well before you plan to begin any home improvement project, as specific rules can vary.

  2. 2.What Happens If I Don't Get a Permit?

    Building without a permit is a lot like driving without a license: Some people do it, but the consequences can be extremely harsh. Municipal authorities have an obligation to make sure that local laws are upheld, and even those who build without a permit with no negative consequences for years can be held accountable in the future for the laws they broke in doing so. Several repercussions--including forced removal of the work done without a permit--can occur well after the work itself was performed.


    Failure to obtain permits when performing remodels, renovations, home improvements, and property additions can also be a factor when it comes time to sell your home. The process of purchasing property can be confusing to begin with, and adding structures on the property and additions to the home that have not been documented can further complicate matters. In some instances, this scenario simply increases the amount of hassle involved in selling the property; in other cases, selling may not be possible without first righting the situation.

  3. 3.Who Do I Contact to Receive a Building Permit?

    For city dwellers, it is generally the city government that issues building permits. Even those who reside within a certain distance from the city yet outside of the city limits may be required to get building permits from the city government. In more rural areas, information regarding building permits can be obtained from the building departments of specific counties.

  5. 4.If I Hire a Contractor, Will I Have to Worry About Permits?

    A good, trustworthy contractor will already know the local laws governing the type of projects he or she deals with on a daily basis. Good contractors understand that the process of acquiring permits can be intimidating to homeowners who have never done it before and will generally make the process easy or simply handle it themselves. However, a contractor who is not honest may decide to skip the permit process and pocket any extra money. Because of this unfortunate reality, it is important to discuss building permits with the contractor you choose to hire, as you might later be held accountable for any negligence. Never hire a contractor who openly admits that he or she is willing to skirt the law in favor of saving money. Not only can this come back and bite you down the road in the form of difficulties with local authorities, it is a clear red flag that this particular contractor may also be willing to cut corners on the work he or she performs!

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