Understanding the Importance of Building Permits

What do you need a building permit for? This is one of the most common questions regarding construction. Building permits are both important and necessary and the failure to obtain one can cause major obstacles down the road.  Building permits are needed whenever a homeowner is altering or expanding their current home, installing a swimming pool, deck, shed or more.  In the State of Florida, websites like Florida Building (.org) can assist you during your research on codes, interpretations, and even new laws are regulations that are set into place. Building permits are more important than you think, and here’s why!

What are Building Permits?

A building permit is an official written authorization issued by a governing building department that allows the owner to proceed with construction from an owners completed application for a building permit. The application for a building permit will often require the owner to complete information on the proposed alterations or addition, the anticipated cost of the work, survey of the property, as well as architectural plans detailing the proposed work and compliance with building code and zoning requirements. Building permits are issued to ensure that the project’s approved plans comply with local and state wide code requirements. These local and state wide codes seek to protect the safety and welfare of the public at large.

How do you obtain a building permit? (General Steps. Confirm your requirements with your local building department)

Step One: Contact your local building department within your township or city. Depending on the scope of work anticipated you may be required to submit your completed application, survey, and architectural plans depicting the proposed work. You can usually confirm thee requirements on review of your building department’s website and obtain the application.

Step Two: Prepare your permit application and be specific as possible with that work is going to be completed. Have your architectural plans completed and submitted along with the application or permit fees required.

Step Three: Once approved, post your permit in a window or on your front door. Prior to starting work, be sure you have confirmed your homeowner’s / builder’s risk insurance coverage is in place, and be sure to have obtained copies of your contractor’s license and insurance information. Your contractor should provide you, in advance of performing any work, copy of its Commercial General Liability insurance coverage, as well as its Workers Comp coverage for your protection.

Step Four:  As your work progresses you will need to arrange for inspections to be performed on the phases of work completed, and obtain approval to proceed to further work. Typical building department inspections are performed on completion of the foundation, framing, rough electrical, rough plumbing, insulation, and possible others.  Building department sign-offs will be required for each trade provided work, such as the plumbing and electrical.

Step Five: Once your project has successfully passed its final inspection, your building department will issue you a Certificate of Occupancy, providing legal status to the work performed. This will allow the new work to be insured and to be transferred successfully to a future owner and not cause any title issues should the property be sold in the future.

What are the consequences of not having a building permit?

Let’s say your home is 1,200 square feet, and you would like to add an additional 1,200 square feet onto the existing home as an extension. Though this is your home, not having a building permit can severely set you back. Townships and cities often keep their eyes out for construction within a neighborhood. If they do not see proper permits regarding the project, your extension can easily be “red tagged” and shut down, until proper permits are issued. If you fail to produce such permits, the city or township may even order that the work is demolished in some extreme cases.

You can also be heavily fined as well. Now, let’s say you have completed your home extension without a permit, and your home is now 2,400 square feet. The addition was never recorded in your town’s office, but the work is 100% complete. The fines a homeowner would need to pay would be undocumented permit fees, back property taxes, since the home is now much larger and possibly even legal fees. You may even potentially need to knock down the expansion and rebuild it up to code with proper documentation.

Hiring a legal or construction consultant is a great option for homeowners that are confused and unsure about the legal steps in order to ensure that there will be no bumps in the road before or after your building venture.

In the long run, obtaining a building permit for your residential work has both financial benefits and peace of mind.  When you run into pre and post construction conflicts due to lack of proper documentation, this could also severely delay the job with multiple stopping points. As you can see, building permits are a necessity that should not be overlooked. From halting the work to demolishing the work mid-labor, to even high fees and penalties, a building permit is always the smartest, rational choice of action.

John Caravella, Esq

The author, John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.

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The Spurce, 2018, Jeff Beneke: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-a-building-permit-1398344

The Deseret News, 2016, Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865650887/When-to-get-a-building-permit-and-what-happens-if-work-is-done-without-a-permit.html

Department of State, Division of Building Standards & Codes, New York State: https://www.dos.ny.gov/dcea/part_1203_locallaw.html