What Happens When You Renovate Your Home Without a Permit?

By: , Contributor

Published on: Jan 08, 2020

Updating your home without the right permits could be a recipe for disaster.

Renovating your home offers you a chance to increase your property's value while improving your own quality of life while you're living in it. But while relatively minor renovations, like replacing flooring or countertops, can generally be done without obtaining a permit from your local municipality, major projects typically require a permit prior to getting started, or at some point along the way. These include, but may not be limited to:

  • HVAC system overhauls
  • Water heater replacements
  • Electrical work
  • Ductwork
  • Structural work (like building a deck or installing a retaining wall)
  • Home additions

But if you've ever gotten a permit for a home improvement project before, you're probably all too aware that it can, in some cases, be a time-consuming and expensive prospect. Some towns, for example, set flat fees for permits, but others calculate their fees as a percentage of the cost of the project at hand. And if you're doing major renovations, you could shell out a lot of money on top of what you’re paying your contractor.

As such, you may be inclined to skip the permit and hope you don't get caught. But that's a decision that could really hurt you in the long run.

Why do you need a permit for major renovations?

If you don't obtain the necessary permits for a home renovation and someone in your local government office becomes aware of that fact, you could get slapped with a serious fine.

How might you get caught? Well, if you decide to sell your home after renovating it, you'll often need a certificate of occupancy to complete that sale. To obtain it, you'll need someone from your local government office to inspect your home and confirm that it's suitable to be lived in. If that someone notices your renovations, but also sees that you never went through the proper channels to go through with them, then you could be on the hook for a hefty fine.

Similarly, it's not uncommon for homes to get reassessed -- sometimes this happens annually. This process involves a property assessor coming to your home and inspecting its features and condition. If your assessment mentions upgrades that require a permit -- a permit you never obtained -- that's another easy way to get caught.

Now, let's go back to the scenario of wanting to sell your home. Not only might you be fined if you're caught having made renovations without a permit, but you also might fail to obtain the certificate of occupancy you need to complete that transaction (or at least fail to obtain it in a timely fashion). The result? A lost opportunity to unload your home on a willing buyer.

And consider this: If damage occurs to your home as a result of renovations for which you never obtained a permit, you may be out of luck when you try to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company. Illegal renovations could easily negate the benefits you'd otherwise be entitled to.

Finally, permits aren't just a piece of paper giving you the right to make changes to your home. They generally come with an inspection component once that work is done. And if it's not done properly, you'll know that your contractor needs to come back in and fix whatever mistakes apply. In other words, getting a permit could actually protect you from sinking money into a renovation and getting shoddy work in return.

Don't skip the permit

Nobody likes dealing with extra paperwork or paying extra money. But in some cases, getting a permit could mean giving up less than an hour of your time and writing a check for a few hundred dollars. In the grand scheme of what could be a multi-week, multi-thousand-dollar renovation, that's really not a big deal. So do yourself a favor: If the work at hand requires a permit, get one.

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