Everyone knows that if you put an extension on your house, you will require a building permit. But what about for the smaller renos like a new kitchen, a new bathroom, installing larger windows or a new basement? Do you need a building permit for that ?
Do I Really Need a Building Permit for Renovations?
When we were visiting friends one day, we went out for a walk around their neighbourhood after dinner. We couldn’t help but notice that one of their neighbours on their street had constructed a 6’ high fence all around their property – including their front yard. Our friends joked that they had built a fortress around their house. Fortress indeed. But unfortunately, the homeowners with the fortress had obviously not checked the building code for their municipality – a neighbour complained, and their fortress came tumbling down. A very costly mistake.* As the owner of your home, you are ultimately responsible for complying with all building requirements. Failure to obtain building permits can result in costly construction delays, legal action and/or the removal of work already completed.
Why Do I Need To Get a Building Permit?
The purpose of a building permit is to ensure that your home renovation meets the basic requirements for health, safety and structural soundness as set out by building codes for your area. Beyond this, the permit process makes sure that your plans are in line with other municipal requirements, such as zoning regulations and heritage building designations.
When Do I Need a Building Permit?
Everybody know that major renovations such as building an addition to a home requires a building permit. But most people don’t realize, many smaller jobs may require one as well. These jobs include finishing basements, updating plumbing or electrical equipment, constructing a deck, or even adding a wood burning stove. If you are making changes like demolishing partitions or load-bearing walls, or changing the structure of doors or windows, you may need to apply for a permit as this kind of work could affect the structural integrity of your home. In some cases, electrical and plumbing permits may also need to be obtained separately. Some repairs and renovations may not require a permit like re-roofing, painting, re-siding, cabinet installations, and replacement of windows and doors provided the opening has not been enlarged. Did you know that you may need a permit to demolish old structures such as a garage, shed or porch, or to cut down a tree on your property? If you’re not sure, talk to your municipal building permit office or renovator to be sure.
The specific requirements depend on your municipality and the type of work you are planning. For simple interior projects, a scale floor plan will usually be adequate. For larger projects involving additions, decks or major structural renovations, a full set of working drawings and a site survey may be needed. If your plan requires a minor variance or zoning bylaw amendment, you may be asked to supply additional information. Again, check with your municipality. They will tell you exactly what you need.
Who Should Get The Permit: My Contractor or Me?
As the homeowner, you are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your renovator can look after this on your behalf. Your contract should specify which permits are required and who will get them. You will need to provide a letter of authorization before your renovator can apply for a permit for your renovation.
DESIGN TIP: Hopefully you will never run into this situation, but a building permit is also a way of keeping your contractor, electrician, and/or plumber accountable. They need to perform work according to the building code and by-laws in your municipality. If they are not adhering to these codes, this will come up in the inspection, and you will have recourse to go back to your contractor, electrician or plumber and ask them to make it right.
What Happens if I Don’t Get a Permit?
If you carry out a renovation project that requires a building permit without having one, your municipality can issue a “stop work” order, which remains in effect until you obtain a permit. If the work doesn’t meet the requirements of building codes in your area, you may have to redo it at your own cost. Or, worst case scenario like our Mr. Fortress example at the beginning, you could be forced to “un-renovate” your home, such as removing an addition or removing part of a fence. An insurance claim could also be effected if your renovation did not have the necessary permits required. *P.S. The building code for the fortress house’s municipality is 4’ high for front yards. Doing his research would have saved Mr. Fortress a lot of time, aggravation AND money!!!
Debi Collinson is a Designer. She renovates “fixer uppers” to flip or to rent. She has helped clients for over 12 years make their home stunning or get their house ready to sell helping them earning money beyond their expectations! She has seen houses at their best and their worst. Debi passes on her knowledge to help people Add Value to their Home while making their home a stunning retreat at the same time.