Trina Knudsen, Renovation Design Group
Even bathroom remodels need building permits.

We introduced the topic of building permits last week. Because of the cost involved and apprehension of working with the government, some homeowners are tempted to not get the proper permits for a home remodel. That is not a good idea. But when does a project actually need a permit? What does it cost? What happens if a permit is not obtained?

When do you need a permit?

When does a remodeling project need a permit? According to Salt Lake City’s Building Services and Civil Enforcement’s website at slcgov.com/building/faqs, “basically, all work being done requires a permit. The only exception to this is painting, laying flooring or other cosmetic issues.” When in doubt, request a permit. Better safe than sorry.

What does a building permit cost?

The cost of the permit is determined by the plan examiners based on a percentage of the anticipated construction cost. This is one of the many reasons why a homeowner will need accurate project plans to do a home remodeling project. An owner will usually pay a review fee upon submission of the required documentation and then pay for the actual permit when the project has been approved.

Who pulls the permit?

According to Utah state law, if there is a contractor on the job, it is his or her responsibility to get the permits and handle the inspections. It is important to understand that “if you hire a contractor and take out the permits yourself, you are liable for the work being done to code and not your contractor,” according to Salt Lake City’s building services website. “This means that if there are corrections to be made in the work, we come back to you, not your contractor. If you hire a contractor, make sure that he takes out the permit and has the inspections done.”

What happens when I get a permit?

The homeowner will receive one of the submitted construction drawing sets back with proper signatures from the municipality added to the cover sheet. In addition, he or she will receive an actual permit which must be on-site at all times throughout the project.

Various inspections will be required throughout the project, and it will be important to understand when those need to be scheduled. These include inspections of the footing and foundations before the concrete is poured, as well as inspections of the rough plumbing, the electrical work and the insulation before the sheet rock is hung, among others. This is the "insurance" that the project will be built legally and safely.

What happens if I don’t get a permit?

How does a municipality know if the owner is remodeling without a permit? Building inspectors that work for the city are out and about inspecting all projects that do have permits. They keep their eyes open for other properties that are obviously under construction. One simple phone call regarding the address is enough to determine if a permit has been issued. If they see a property in question, they will knock on the door and ask to see the permit. If you are not able to produce it, the project is “red-tagged” and shut down and will have to do whatever is necessary to obtain the permit before construction can resume. If anything has been built that does not comply with zoning ordinances or building codes, city officials can order that portion of the work to be demolished.

In addition, a fine can be levied on the project. Therefore, most professional contractors will not proceed on a project without a permit.

Anyone can call the applicable building department and check to see if a permit has been issued. That means that any curious or irritated neighbor may check with the city. In neighborhoods especially sensitive to remodeling/zoning issues, it becomes even more risky to try to skirt the legal requirements.

One significant issue of not getting the proper permits when doing a home remodel is a delayed consequence. A homeowner may get away with it during construction, but there may be repercussions when he or she goes to sell. A well-informed buyer who is considering a home that has obviously been remodeled or added on to will know to ask if the work was done with a valid permit. If the answer is no, that may be enough to send the potential buyer on to the next house.

The worst-case scenario is if the city and county records have the house listed as being 1,500 square feet and it is now 3,000 square feet. If there is no permit related to an addition, they will put two and two together. Because the addition was never recorded with the assessor’s office, the seller may be fined for undocumented permit fees, back property taxes and additional fines. It is not worth the money the homeowner saved by not pulling a permit for the work.

Permitting may be complicated and time-consuming, but it is dangerous to ignore it. Remember, inspections are a good thing. They are a built-in checks-and-balances system for home construction with another set of eyes making sure the work is done right. The codes are there for good reason and are designed to keep homeowners and their families safe.

If the client looks at it that way, then getting a permit isn’t as hard to swallow. Just embrace it. It is one of those things that ends up being a blessing in disguise.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. They can be contacted at [email protected].