How Building Permits Work

Why Do I Need a Building Permit?

Building permits are mainly about safety. By enforcing construction standards, they give you and the other occupants of the building the best chance to avoid fire, structural failure or something as simple as a child getting his head caught between stair posts. If you decide to move, the permit process also protects future owners.

The first reason to obtain a building permit is that it's illegal not to. If you fail to get a permit for work that requires it, you can be fined. You may be forced to remove a building or tear out completed work. But there are plenty of positive reasons for following the permit process as well:

  • It keeps your contractor honest. To beat out the price of a competitor, a profit-driven contractor might be tempted to cut corners. Would you know it if he did? Most construction work ends up hidden behind walls and under floors. A building permit requires that a contractor use sound and safe methods and materials. And inspections assure you that he does so.
  • It guides your do-it-yourself project. No matter how handy you are, you aren't likely to know everything about modern building practices. When you get a permit, you'll have to show the building department your plans. If they don't follow the codes, the building inspector will ask you to revise them. But if you never apply for a permit, you might go ahead with work that's dangerous or unsound.
  • It keeps your insurance valid. Building done without a permit can mean that your insurance company may not honor your policy. A fire resulting from work without a permit could leave you holding the bag. If someone falls off a deck that was built without a permit, your liability insurance may not cover his or her injuries [source: Redondo Beach].
  • It's valuable when you sell your home. If you perform work without a permit, you can assume a potential buyer will know about it. The permit process is a matter of public record. In addition, you may be required to sign a Property Disclosure Statement, in which you have to reveal all problems or defects in the property. Having all the necessary permits makes the sale proceed much more smoothly [source: Oregon Association of Realtors].

Even if they understand a building permit's value, often, homeowners get confused about the type of work for which they need one. On the next page, you'll find out it that if often depends on where you live.