What Can Really Happen if You Don’t Get a Permit for Your Home Project

Angela Brown
Written by Angela Brown
Updated October 28, 2021
Residential home under construction
Dan Reynolds Photography/Moment via Getty Images

Failing to obtain a permit for your home project can be a very costly mistake

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If you’re a fan of binging home improvement shows, it’s tempting to tackle some DIYs over the weekend. But, before you start knocking down walls, building a fence, or adding new electrical sockets, take a few minutes to determine whether you need a permit for that. 

Failure to secure a permit for specific home improvement projects could cost you big time.

What Projects Need a Permit?

A worker drilling a wall
Dana Neely/Stone via Getty Images

Many city and county governments require permits for many projects on your property. You might know that building an addition or updating the electrical system in a home requires a permit, but here are a few others you’ll likely need a permit for too:

  • Building a fence or retaining wall

  • Roofing

  • Replacing windows or doors

  • Building a shed

  • Updating or finishing a basement

  • Building a deck

  • Adding a new HVAC system or water heater

  • Installing a gas stove

  • Removing or adding walls

Some common projects that don’t typically require permits include:

  • Replacing a bathtub or sink (as long as you’re not relocating them to a new space)

  • Updating light fixtures

  • Making cosmetic updates in the kitchen

  • Painting (interior or exterior)

  • Changing out faucets

  • Installing storm windows

  • Changing your siding

  • Adding new flooring

  • Installing new cabinets or shelving

Local laws can vary, so make sure to check your local zoning and permitting requirements before starting on your project. It’s also important to note here that if you’re working with a contractor, they should be well-versed in which projects require permits, which is just another pro for hiring a pro.

How Much Does a Permit Cost?

The cost for a permit will vary based on the type of permit you need. The average cost for a building permit is $1,305. Prices may vary depending on where you live.

  • Garage conversion: $1,200–$1,500

  • Roofing: $255–$500

  • Fencing: $20–$60

  • HVAC: $250–$400

  • Deck: $225–$500

  • Window: $50–$200

It can take up to six weeks to receive your permit, so plan accordingly.  

Consequences of Moving Ahead Without Your Permit

If you’re itching to start on your next project, spending several hundred dollars and waiting up to six weeks to begin might be a buzzkill. Some homeowners even skip the permitting process because they don’t want to wait. But, if you go ahead with your project, there could be expensive consequences ahead.

Your Local Government Can Charge You a Fine

If (when) the local building department discovers that you’ve been working without a permit, they may notify you to cease work until you receive the proper building permit. You may be charged $500 or more per day for violating building permit laws. Your county can also put a lien on your home if you don’t pay the fine.

You May Have to Demolish Your Work

Depending on the type of project, your county building department may ask you to demolish any work you’ve done. If, during a later inspection, a home inspector discovers issues that could compromise the safety of your home, the county may require that you demolish the entire project or pay to hire a professional to update the work properly.

You Could Void Your Homeowner’s Insurance With Unpermitted Work

If you didn’t read your homeowners’ insurance paperwork carefully, you might be surprised to learn that unpermitted work could void your homeowner’s insurance. Your homeowners’ insurance company likely won’t pay for damages caused by unpermitted work. The insurance company also won’t cover injuries sustained on your property related to the unpermitted project.

You May Have a Hard Time Selling Your Home

Completing home improvement projects to increase the value of your home is an excellent idea—unless you make the improvements without a permit. If a project (like the addition of a deck or privacy fence) occurred without the required permits, those updates wouldn’t improve the home’s value. 

You are required, by law, to disclose any renovations or remodeling on the property. When you try to sell your home, you may be required to pay for permits on the improvements retroactively.

You Risk Your Safety

Housing departments have permitting requirements for various reasons. The primary concern with building permits is safety, zoning, and building codes. Depending on the project, the city may require periodic inspections throughout the process to ensure safety and code compliance. 

Most importantly, you risk safety issues when you complete work without a permit or hire someone willing to do the job without the proper licenses. Poorly executed electrical or plumbing work could be dangerous and expensive, so you want to make sure the work is top-notch.

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