Do I Need A Building Permit To Work On My House?

  • 5 min read

One of the most common questions we receive is about how to obtain a building permit. Some types of work do not require a permit, so it is critical to determine if one is needed. If a permit is required, how can it be obtained?

Let’s look at an example of a building permit application from one of the cities in Oregon. As you can see, it’s only one page, and most counties and cities try to make obtaining a building permit as simple as possible. The application will ask for the type of work being done, such as new construction, alterations, demolition, etc. It will also ask for the construction category, whether a single-family home, accessory building like a shed, commercial building, or multi-family.

Additionally, the job site information must be provided, including the work’s address and a cross street, to help inspectors locate the site. If the property is in a subdivision, the name of the subdivision and the tax number or parcel number must also be included.

The tax number is crucial because while a street address may serve as a reference for mail delivery and driving directions, it verifies that the work is being done on the correct legal parcel within its boundaries. The permit application will require a description of the work being done, such as replacing an air conditioner, installing a new roof, or doing electrical work.

The property owner, tenant, or builder contractor must also be identified. This is important because if you are a property owner, you may be able to perform some tasks, such as simple electrical or plumbing work, without a license in certain cities. However, you cannot hire someone else to do the work unless they are licensed.

If you are the property owner and want to install a new ceiling fan, you may be able to do it yourself, but you cannot pay a handyman. You must either do it yourself or hire an electrician. If the applicant is an engineer, architect, or contractor, their information should be included on the application, including the name of the contractor and their CCB (Construction Contractors Board) license. The applicant must then sign the application.

The financial aspect of the project will also be addressed. Information about the cost of the work in both dollars and square footage will be required to calculate the building permit fees. Remember, the more complex the job, the higher the fees.

Determining the Need for a Permit

We cannot provide legal advice, but here are some general guidelines to consider. If you’re making changes that affect the outer structure of your house, such as opening up walls, you’ll likely need a permit. On the other hand, simple replacements like a new roof shingle or trim work around a window may not require a permit. However, if you’re making significant changes, like replacing a door or doorframe, you’ll need a permit. As for new construction, building a small shed or storage bin in most jurisdictions usually doesn’t require a permit.

Determining if a permit is needed for your work can be confusing. While we are not legal experts, we can offer general guidelines. If you are making changes to your house’s envelope, such as installing a new window or doorframe, you may need a permit. On the other hand, a permit may not be necessary if you are simply replacing a door or adding a small shed. However, this varies by jurisdiction. If the shed is larger than a certain square footage or height, a permit may be required to ensure it complies with setback requirements and is not too close to utilities or other structures. Additional engineering may also be required for a proper foundation, floor plans, and roofing design for larger structures. The exact requirements will depend on the jurisdiction.

There are 3,611 counties in the country and thousands of cities, each with its own unique regulations. Rules within a county can vary, with areas outside of cities being more lenient than those within. It’s important to research the regulations of the specific location you are located in to determine if a permit is required. Failure to obtain a permit, when necessary, could result in penalties, fees, and even the structure’s demolition. Cities now use aerial views, advanced mapping, and artificial intelligence to identify additions to homes and sheds without proper permits.

Most of the time, work in skilled trades such as electrical and plumbing require a permit. For example, a permit is necessary when changing electrical conductors or devices or altering plumbing systems. On the other hand, simple tasks like changing a faucet or installing a dishwasher that is not hardwired may not require a permit. However, a permit is likely necessary if you are rerouting plumbing or adding an outlet or switch.

Also, remember that grading sometimes requires a permit. In most jurisdictions, if you’re moving more than a certain amount of earth or dirt, it may need a permit to ensure that you are not altering the flow of water or drainage, digging into pipes, or changing erosion patterns. If you’re just digging a small hole, it may not require a permit, but grading large amounts of earth or adding fill materials to a property could be a permanent process that requires a permit.

The easy answer is, for major changes that can pose a risk to residents or neighbors, you should get a permit. However, you probably don’t need a permit if it’s just something simple and cosmetic, such as adding moldings or putting up a shelf. It is essential to understand what your jurisdiction requires. Additionally, making changes without a permit can cause problems and damage to your house, which could result in voiding your insurance policy if the work is not permanent and substandard.

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