Building Permits: Don’t Skip Them Without Reading This First!

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 05/08/24 •  4 min read

What is a Building Permit?

A building permit is your formal permission from your municipality, to proceed with a renovation. A permit outlines what the homeowners are doing to the home, and includes all key changes including structural, electrical, and plumbing.

Note that this is of course very different from an occupancy permit (or certificate of occupancy), which is a document to certify the building is safe and suitable for use.

Why Do You Need a Construction Permit?

While construction permits, or building permits, often seem like a money grab, they’re actually in place to protect you and your investment. When you get a permit, you get the expert second opinion of a building and planning specialist who looks at your drawings (often a hand-drawn sketch) and specifications and makes sure your renovations will meet building codes. Sometimes they can catch things that could have cost you big in the long run.

How Much Are Building Permit Fees?

The cost of a building permit will vary by municipality and will be dependent on the work being done. In general, the more complex the job and/or the more square feet it involves, the more the permit will cost.

Does Your Home Renovation Need a Building Permit?

So, do you need a permit to renovate? The answer is usually yes. If you’re not sure, you should ask your municipal government, which often has a building department and/or planning department that oversees these permit applications.

Here are 10 common types of renovations that almost always require a permit:

In short, most renovation jobs in and around your home will require a permit.

What Renovations Don’t Require a Permit?

With that said, a building permit is not required for surface changes. For example, no permit is required if you plan to:

Who Arranges for a Building Permit?

If you’re undertaking a project that requires a permit, you may be wondering if it’s your responsibility or the responsibility of your contractor(s) to submit the building permit application.

Who is responsible for getting a building permit? Either the homeowner or the contractor can arrange for a building permit to be issued. The contractor cannot legally begin working on your home without a permit, so you should clearly define this responsibility with them upfront because obtaining a permit is the homeowner’s legal responsibility. In other words, the homeowner is the one on the hook should the government find out work was done on your home without a permit.

What If I Skip Getting a Permit?

Be wary of a contractor who tries to convince you to skip the permit process because the consequences can be great.

What exactly happens if you’re caught without a building permit for your renovation? If the discovery is made by a buyer when you’re trying to sell your home it may mean you lose the sale, or a condition of selling your home may be to rip out the renovation and redo it, this time with a permit. If the discovery is made after a fire, structural collapse, flood, or other damaging event ⁠— especially if the mishap is the result of work done without a building permit ⁠— it’s likely your home insurance policy will decline to cover the damage. 

How Long Should You Keep Your Building Permits?

Since building permits are so important for insurance and selling purposes, you’ll want to keep them for a long time. In fact, it’s best to just never get rid of your permits! They are your proof of what’s been done, where, and that everything was done above-board and to code.


At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.