Because many homeowners are combing the Internet for YouTube videos, as well as instructional content featuring DIY projects, it’s no wonder a common question many of them also have is, “What happens if you get caught without a building permit?” While many homeowners want to work on their projects in a hassle-free manner with straightforward instructions, they also want to know if they’ll get into trouble if they attempt to complete something without a permit.

It’s becoming more commonplace for individuals to take it upon themselves to make improvements to their homes. However, what’s also happening is these same individuals often aren’t researching the regulations their counties or cities are enforcing. Therefore, there’s the potential for future repercussions for completing this work without first obtaining a permit. Under some circumstances, homeowners choose not to get one because they’re attempting to reduce costs. What they may not realize is it’s costly not to have one.

When Should Homeowners Obtain a Building Permit?

Each time you question what happens if I get caught without a building permit, the answer is that you should have one. Anytime an individual is attempting any work on their home; it’s necessary to obtain a building permit. The main reason is that there may be zoning issues that come up in addition to those involving the permit. Therefore, it may become necessary for homeowners to verify the work they’re about to complete to determine if it’s worth their time and budget.

Under most circumstances, government agencies require a general permit when homeowners are going to make square footage additions or remodel their homes. Each time plumbing or electrical work must occur, a licensed professional must also be added to the permit. The reason permit offices do this is to stay in compliance with the state’s regulations and to keep things safe. It’s also so for tax calculation purposes.

What Happens if Homeowners Build Without a Permit?

Building without a permit comes with a myriad of consequences that everyone should think about carefully. These consequences arise, for example, when refinancing comes up or if the homeowner has an interest in putting their home up for sale. If an inspector drives by and sees construction occurring, the homeowner may see penalties. Repercussions may also become a reality if damage occurs or a catastrophe happens due to faulty work. The unfortunate fact is each of these events is costly no matter if it’s the loss of profits, insurance of fines, or payment of out of pocket expenses.

Another question homeowners have is what happens if a previous homeowner renovates the home, but they didn’t obtain a permit or have an inspection? Or, what happens if homeowners spend the weekend working on projects as a means of saving money versus hiring a contractor, but they neglect to get a permit beforehand. For those who have plans to live in their home for the rest of their lives, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you’re like many homeowners, you may face changes with your job or your needs in the future, and the need to sell your home could potentially arise in the future.

How easy and costly obtaining a permit once work is already completed is dependent on the type of remodeling work was performed and if the inspector must deconstruct it to conduct a thorough examination. How these inspections work, unfortunately, is also dependent on the personality of the inspector and how thoroughly they want to examine the work. Fortunately, the fees for the paperwork are typically not much higher than what would have incurred during the original permitting process. Those who enter a permit office having the full intention of doing the right thing are typically greeted by staff members willing to help them achieve that goal.

Is it Possible for Homeowners to Sell a Home Without a Permit?

If work occurs without a permit, it could affect the home’s appraisal. Here is an excellent example of what happens if you get caught without a building permit. Unless you find a cash buyer, which the chances of that happening are slim, homeowners need a permit to sell a house. An appraisal is ordered by the loan officer each time a potential buyer attempts to get a loan.

At this time, the appraiser will pull the homeowner’s property information with the city or county to examine its taxable square footage and other general information. They’ll look to see if a finished basement or additional square footage has gone through the proper inspection and is recorded as such. If it hasn’t, they may give those areas of the property a lower value.

If the appraisal doesn’t meet the asking price, it may cause issues with the buyer’s loan, or they may no longer be able to afford to buy the home. Under most circumstances, the appraiser will provide some value to work that is non-permitted, but these values are subjective. Only a percentage of the appraiser’s value is loaned by the bank. Therefore, these realities may cause the buyer to back out of their deal to purchase the home.

Will Buyers Turn Down Purchasing a Home with Non-Permitted Work?

It isn’t uncommon for potential home buyers to call into question the integrity of the work performed when they discover non-permitted work. The majority of the time, there is a myriad of ways of completing a job, and each of these ways could be incorrect. Because building codes are frequently changing, it’s a licensed contractor’s responsibility to stay up-to-date with these regulation changes with the permit office each time they receive approval for their work. Therefore, when a buyer sees that there is no permit, it’s safe for them to assume the work completed isn’t up to code. It’s situations like these where the potential buyer, or the buyer who is already involved in the home buying process, may back out of the purchase entirely.

What Happens if a Homeowner Needs Refinancing?

If homeowners need refinancing, they’ll discover that an appraisal is necessary. Each time an inspector approves renovations that comply with current building codes, the tax assessor records these changes. Homeowners will find they’re subjected to the same process as when going through the home buying process and they could be potentially turned down. For example, if there is non-permitted work that was completed, the appraiser may not be able to meet the value.

Is Non-Permitted Work Covered by Homeowner’s Insurance?

The good news is that, yes coverage is available. Under most circumstances, agencies will cover work that is completed by the homeowner or a contractor no matter if it’s permitted or not. However, if the damage that occurred is in a newly constructed area, the insurance adjuster will check to see if it’s the result of faulty work and determine if it was permitted and inspected. Then, if there was a permit, they’ll address the contractor and, in some situations, the city for compensation.

It isn’t uncommon for problems to occur if the homeowner neglects to alert their insurance agency when they make new additions to their home. In these cases, the value associated with the homeowner’s new remodel or build could now be more than the contents formerly in their home. Therefore, it’s critical that homeowners take pictures of all their work and include detailed descriptions to send along to their insurance agent. These changes will, of course, result in a higher premium, but it shouldn’t be significant.

Should Homeowners Get a Permit Following the Work?

If homeowners are worried about what happens if you get caught without a building permit, and they have non-permitted work, it’s possible to get one after the fact. These are referred to as retrospective permits. In cases such as these, the permit office will require what is called a “rough-in” inspection before the work is 100% complete. They’ll look at things like deck footers, framing, insulation, wiring, plumbing, and so on before homeowners finish the work. Homeowners can visit their permit office to ask for help applying for these kinds of permits and, as soon as they’re granted, an inspector will be assigned to visit the home.

Depending on the kind of work that was completed, inspectors may require that walls be torn out to ensure that the correct insulation values were used and that it was added to help increase the burn through time in the case of fires. They’ll also be looking for spacing between drywall, and to ensure stud installation is occurring 16-inches on center. For those who installed a tile bathroom, some may have to come down for a wall inspection or assuring plumbing was done according to code. Remember, these inspections could become costly.

It’s critical that all plumbing and electrical jobs be completed by a licensed contractor. For those who have chosen to complete these jobs, they must have a licensed professional sign off on that work and that process can also become costly.

The Potential for Fines Incurring

It is the homeowner’s responsibility to obtain a permit if they’re not working with a contractor and, if they are, they must ensure the contractor is doing their due diligence by getting one and that they’re insurance and license is up to date. Fines may be assessed if building occurs without a permit. A home can be tagged for a fine each time an inspector drives through a neighborhood and sees work being completed without a permit.

Neighbors can also call the permit office to make a complaint about work being completed without a permit, and this could result in a fine. It isn’t uncommon for homeowners to overlook these envelopes in their mailboxes but, in doing so, they may incur fines for up to $100 per day or more. In situations such as those, a lien could be put on the house by the city or county. Therefore, it’s critical that homeowners get a permit before attempting any building projects in their home.

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