If you purchased your home prior to the recent housing collapse, your investment may not be paying off the way you had hoped. If your home is on the market, you might be struggling to get an offer high enough to pay off your mortgage. For that reason, some homeowners are taking on remodeling projects to raise the value of their homes.
For the do-it-yourself remodeler, obtaining permits is expensive, time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, but for many home renovations it's necessary and required. Some municipalities charge 1% of the total construction costs to issue the permit and may take up to six weeks to complete the inspections. That's time and money that some homeowners don't have. Many homeowners sidestep the permit process as a result.

According to the National Association of Realtors, failing to obtain the proper permits may complicate or cancel the sale of your home. During the home inspection or appraisal process, homeowners may have to show that the proper permits are on file. If the lending bank learns that remodeling work was done without securing permits, it will likely not make the loan.

Local municipalities issue building permits based on city ordinances. Since there are no federal or state standards, building codes vary from city to city. The only way to know if your city requires a permit for a remodeling job is to go to its website or call. If you hire a licensed contractor, he or she will know if the job requires a permit. As the homeowner, it's your responsibility to ensure that all remodeling is completed lawfully. Don't assume the permits were handled by the contractor.

Renovations that Likely Need a Permit
Fences
Not all fences require a permit, but municipalities often place height restrictions on non-permitted fences. The city of Chicago, for example, requires a permit on a fence five feet or higher, while other cities allow for higher structures.

Footprint Changes
Any alteration to the footprint of your home requires a permit. This includes bedrooms, room additions, most decks, garages and some sheds.

New Windows
Replacing an existing window doesn't require a permit, but cutting a hole for a new window generally does. This includes skylights and new doors.

Plumbing/Electrical
If you're installing new or removing existing plumbing, a permit is probably required. Any job that includes installing new electrical service to your home will also require a permit. Even something as simple as moving an outlet requires a permit.

Structural Changes
Any project involving changes to the support system of the home requires a permit. This may include changes to load-bearing walls, decks, balconies and porches.

Siding
Most municipalities require a permit for siding projects.

Water Heater
If you want to replace your water heater, you will need a permit. You may also need a permit for ventilation system changes.

Total Cost
Some municipalities include language requiring a permit if a renovation or construction project costs more than a certain amount; this may be $5,000 or more.

Renovations That Do Not Require a Permit
Renovations that may not require a permit include:

  • Painting or wallpapering

  • Installing hardwood floors or carpeting

  • Minor electrical repairs that do not involve new service or moving existing service

  • Installing new countertops

  • Replace a faucet

How Do I Get a Permit?
Apply for the permit through your local municipal government office. Depending on the complexity of the project, some permits are issued immediately, while others may require inspection of the plans.

During the renovation, inspections of the work will likely be required. For projects involving home additions, multiple inspections may be required. Once the work is completed, a final inspection takes place and the permit is issued.

The Bottom Line
Most large projects that involve major changes to the structure of your home will require a permit. Because each municipality has different rules, check your city's website or call for clarification. Regardless of who does the work, it is the homeowner's responsibility to ensure that the project holds the proper permits.

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