Most home improvement projects require a building permit.  Your city will follow your state’s building codes and regulations, as well as any city specific ones. The city building department has the responsibility of enforcing the city’s standards for home construction, as well as ensuring that safety requirements are met.

It may be tempting to proceed with a remodeling project without involving city officials. If you begin a home improvement project that requires a permit without getting one, and somehow the city becomes aware of this, you will receive a stop work order. You would have to pay a fine, tear down any work that was not to code, and submit all required documents and fees for approval. The larger the scale of your project, the higher the risk.

Another factor to consider is resale implications. Buyers may pull a copy of your home file from the local planning office. If there are unresolved permits or work done to your house without permit, they may bring this up during negotiations. For a new homeowner to get approvals on a new project, any unresolved permits with the city have to be settled first. The city may also require unpermitted work to be brought up to code at that point.

In addition to building permits, your project may require design review or zoning approval. Check your city’s website for information.

Each city’s permit process is different, however the steps involved will likely include:

  • Submitting an application form with an application fee
  • Submitting copies of your project documents (architectural plans, structural engineering calculations, etc) for projects such as those that involve changes to walls or building additions
  • Permit fees   

The length of the process usually depends on the nature and complexity of the project. Some permits may be issued on the spot, while others will require lengthy review.

Once the permit is approved, your contractor will schedule periodic inspections with city officials as required. Permits are typically valid for a set period of time. At the end of the project you will need to obtain final sign off by the city building inspector to close the file.

Note: The fees don’t stop there. Home improvement projects on record with the city have an associated value. This information eventually makes its way to your local county assessor’s office for a potential increase to your property value and associated property tax.