Who Pays For Building Permits?

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated October 1, 2021
contractor discussing plans with homeowners
skynesher via Getty Images

Whether enlisting the help of a contractor or tackling a project yourself, obtaining a building permit is easier than you think

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Embarking on a house project is nerve-wracking on its own, but understanding building permits and the costs associated with them? Just one more hurdle you must leap. But don’t sweat what could be a simple process! 

When it comes to permitting the work, your contractor will usually include that cost in their project bid and obtain the permit themselves. For DIY projects, you can apply for a permit through your city, if you need one.  Here’s what you need to know about paying for building permits—for any project!

Paying for Building Permits When Using a Contractor

A licensed, reputable contractor includes permitting as part of the project costs when they submit a bid for a job. Though you pay for the permit as part of your project cost, your contractor will pay the city and obtain the permit themselves. Going this route ensures your contractor is held liable for the work should a problem occur down the road. If you pull the permit, the responsibility falls on you.

A contractor who refuses to pull permits themselves, or claims it’s not necessary for them to pull the permits at all, is waving a definite red flag. If this happens, reconsider their involvement in your project.

Various state regulations require contractors to pull permits. California, for example, mandates that anyone who works on your home must be licensed by the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) if the project is over $500. Check the requirements where you live before starting your project.

Why Wouldn’t a Contractor Want To Pull a Permit?

If your contractor is hesitant to pull a permit, there’s a good chance they’re either unlicensed or have had problems working with the city, both of which are bad signs. 

A city inspector will inevitably visit your property to inspect the work, and when they do, they will direct their questions to the person whose name is on the permit. These questions can get pretty technical, so your contractor should be the one to answer them.

Check Their Licensing

The bottom line when hiring a contractor? Do your research and check their:

  • Contractor licensing

  • Online reviews and recommendations

If someone gets injured on the job or costly repairs are needed later, a licensed contractor will bear the responsibility. Confirming important documentation can save you a headache down the road.

Paying for Building Permits When Starting a DIY Project

Permitting for DIY projects works a little differently because there’s not a contractor involved. Fortunately, permitting is a simple process. Just keep a few things in mind, like:

  • Not all projects require a permit; permitting ordinances vary by municipality

  • If your project needs a permit, you should apply for the permit through your city

  • Even DIY projects require a site plan to show proposed improvements to your property. A draftsperson or blueprint designer can help you create a detailed site plan.

How Much Do Permits Cost?

Permit costs vary by city. Some cities charge 1% of the total remodel costs, while some charge a flat rate depending on the project. 

The national average cost of a building permit is $1,330, but will vary greatly depending on where you live and the type of project.

What If I Don’t Get A Permit?

Skipping the permit can be tempting in places where unpermitted work is commonplace. However, there is a whole slew of consequences that can come from not obtaining a permit, including:

  • Incurring fees or fines

  • Having your project shut down

  • Hosting an unsafe environment for workers

  • Losing your homeowners insurance coverage

  • Jeopardizing your ability to sell the home in the future

If your municipality finds out that you’re doing unpermitted work, they’ll require you to get a permit in addition to paying any fees associated with skipping this in the first place. It’s best to spend the money to acquire a building permit during your project planning stage. This way, you can avoid the hassle and keep your project safe: a win-win for everybody.

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