Many people wonder if they need a building permit.
The answer to that question is yes and no.
If you are just doing some work on your home, then you do not need a permit.
However, if you plan to change the layout of your house or install an addition such as a patio cover, you will need one.
In this article, I will show you how to determine whether or not someone has obtained their building permit.
What Are Building Permits?
What are building permits?
They are certificates issued by the City for what is being built.
All construction, renovation, or demolition work that requires a permit must be done according to the building code and other relevant laws.
Are Building Permits Public Record
This question can be answered by looking at the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to FOIA.gov, “The 1966 FOIA law requires federal agencies to make available for public inspection and copying certain records, with nine exemptions that protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement”.
From this perspective, no building permit is or should not considered a private record. Furthermore, it provides insight into what information you can access if filing an official request under the act.
This would likely lead someone who filed a proper request to find out if they need one to build on their property.
An example of how these requests work is provided by PublicRecordsRequest’s website, which states: “Public Records Request Form.
In general, there are five categories of records that can help you find out if a permit was obtained.
They include county clerk records, city hall records or plans department files; online resources specifically for building permits; newspaper records, and public notices or announcements.
Most people find it easiest to start with the local city hall, plan commission office, county clerk’s office, or online resources to find out if a permit was obtained.
How to Find Out If My Neighbor Has a Building Permit
Homeowners need to know what’s happening in their neighborhood.
Sometimes, you need to know if your neighbor obtained a building permit before they started any construction.
Maybe the fence in their backyard is taller than what was in place when you moved next door, or maybe there has been an addition built onto the house that wasn’t there last year.
There are several ways that you can check this information online.
A quick search will return results with any permits associated with the address of the property.
You can also search for the person or business applying for a permit on your local government’s website to see if they have one in their name.
Alternatively, you can contact your local government to find out if they obtained a permit.
Your local city hall should have files on all of these things, and they can find out whether permits were pulled with just your address or cross the street.
They can also tell you where exactly the property line lies between yours and your neighbors.
An inspector will immediately request your neighbor to stop if the project doesn’t have a permit.
How to Report Construction Without a Building Permit
There are three ways to report construction without a permit. These are the most effective that I would recommend.
Contact Building Inspection Department
The first step would be to get in touch with the building inspection department- mainly online.
Most of the building inspection departments often have a toll-free number that you can call to notify them of illegal constructions in your locality.
- A perfect example is New York city, where you can dial 311 and connect to the building inspection department closest to you. Small towns may have local phone numbers you can contact for assistance.
Once you make that call, I would recommend you to be as detailed as possible.
Ensure the representative provides as detailed information as possible, including street address, contractor’s name, and describe the work performed.
You should also inform the inspector of the illegal issue with the building construction.
When reporting, it’s always recommended that you leave the complaint anonymously to protect your privacy.
File a Complaint Online
Most city council websites have a complaint form that you can fill and submit to notify them of the illegal construction.
You will get this form most likely under the section marked construction complaints or city-related complaints.
It’s important to note that some websites have a form for different complaints, such as falling debris complaints, construction after business hours, construction without a permit complaint form, etc.
What Happens If You Get Caught Remodeling Without a Building Permit?
- It can be costly. Depending on the violation, you could face fines and penalties of $100 to $500 per day for each unpermitted work done.
You will also have to pay back permit fees with interest which is usually double the original cost.
The bottom line: remodeling without a building permit will likely set you back more than just paying upfront for your permits and inspections.
What happens if they catch me? If caught doing unpermitted work – whether it’s an addition or new windows – homeowners may be subject to legal action, including having their project torn out (and possibly fined as well).
In some cases, such as those involving electrical wiring issues like improperly installed GFC outlets in bathrooms and kitchens, homeowners can be held liable if someone is seriously hurt or killed in an accident due to the unpermitted work.
- It may take longer for your project to get approved by officials.
If you are caught, inspectors will likely delay issuing permits until all violations have been fixed and they do not pose a threat to occupants, including risks of electrical shock or fire hazards.
This means that it could take much longer than expected for your project’s final inspection, which might also stall other jobs on site.