What Happens If You Build Without a Permit?
What happens if you build without a permit seems to be a commonly searched question on the internet. We have a feeling that it’s mostly because homeowners want to know what kind of trouble they are getting into without one. Read more to find out about getting a Retroactive Permit, Selling a House Without Permits, and "Do I need a permit to build a deck?".
In this DIY age, with the ability to find out how to do just about anything on Youtube, homeowners take it upon themselves to improve their space without knowing the regulations imposed by their county or city and the possible future repercussions of remodeling without a permit. Sometimes homeowners think that they can keep their costs down without pulling permits. They may be in for a big surprise. Real estate agents encounter homes with non-permitted work quite frequently. In our experience, non-permitted work can cause problems in a home sale.
When Do I Need to Pull a Permit?
When homeowners ask “When do I need to pull a permit?” our answer is always, before you start any work at all. You may be dealing with zoning issues besides permitting issues and need to verify with the permitting office that what you are about to do is worth your time and money. When homeowners remodel or make square footage additions to their homes, most managing governmental agencies require at least a general permit for the work. When electrical or plumbing work is to be done, a licensed professional must be added to the permit as well. Permitting offices do this for safety reasons to comply with the state’s department of insurance regulations as well as to calculate taxes. Once a permit is pulled, it can stay open for six (6) months when work has not been started.
- A homeowner can NOT replace a water heater
- A homeowner can NOT replace a ceiling fan
- A homeowner can NOT replace a toilet or sink
- Any work with exposed electric wires must be performed by an electrician
Building Without Permit Consequences
There are several factors which you should think about before building without permit. Consequences can come into play when you decide to sell your home or refinance your home. You may see penalties when an inspector drives by your home and sees construction going on. This is probably the worst time to find out what happens when you build without a permit. Or you may feel repercussions when a home catastrophe happens and the damage was caused by faulty work. Unfortunately, all of these events can cost you money, whether in fines, lost profits or out of pocket expenses following a claim. But, it’s never too late to help your situation.
So what do you do if a previous homeowner has made renovations to your home but didn't go through the proper channels of permitting and inspection? Or perhaps you got the DIY bug and chose to do renovations on your home but didn’t get a permit. Well, if you plan on living the rest of your life in the same home - no harm, no foul (unless you run into a faulty build that causes harm). But, if you’re like every other homeowner, your needs will change or maybe your job will and you’ll be faced with selling your home.
The cost and ease of getting a permit after the fact depends on the type of remodeling work done and whether an inspector can examine the work without having you deconstruct it. And yes, it sometimes depends on the personality of the inspector and his need to see down to the nitty-gritty of your work. The fees associated with the paperwork are not much more than they would have been if you applied for the permit before doing the work. When you come to the permit office with the intention of doing the right thing, you will usually find the employees willing to help.
Selling a House Without Permits
Non-permitted work may affect an appraisal
When selling a house without permits, you could get lucky and attract a cash buyer. The chances of that happening are slim though. When a buyer has to get a loan, the lender orders an appraisal. An appraiser will look at your property card recorded by the city or county to gather general property information including taxable square footage. If the appraiser finds additional square feet or that finished basement area is not recorded, he/she may give those areas less value if the work has not gone through proper inspection and onto record.
A buyer may not be able to afford a home when the appraisal doesn't meet the asking price. If a non-permitted room is 10' x 10' for example, that's 100 square feet. At $200 per square foot, a buyer could be forced to make up the difference of $20,000 in cash. Usually, the appraiser will give some value of the non-permitted work, but the value is subjective. The bank will only loan on a percentage of the appraisal value (unless the buyer can get a 100% loan). The buyer may have to back out of purchasing your home. When a buyer backs out of a contract, it's usually no sweat off their back. But finding out what happens when you build without a permit here usually means that you have to start the listing process over again, wait for another buyer, deal with the appearance that there is something wrong with your home, and possibly lose out on your contingent sale of your new home.
Buyers May Turn Away From Non-Permitted Work
When a home buyer discovers non-permitted work, their assumptions about the integrity of the work may well be warranted. There is typically more than one way to do a job, and all those ways could be wrong. Building codes change frequently, so licensed contractors will stay regulated by their permit office when they get approval on needed drawings and required descriptions of their intended changes. Buyers may assume that because there is no permit, the work done was not up to code. A prospective home buyer or a buyer already in the due diligence process may turn away from purchasing your home.
Permits and Refinancing
An appraisal may also be needed for refinancing your home. When an inspector has approved renovations to current building codes, those changes are recorded with the tax assessor. Just like when a home buyer needs a loan, a homeowner looking to refinance his home may be turned down when the appraisal doesn’t meet value because of the non-permitted work.
Myth - Homeowner's insurance won’t cover non-permitted work
The general consensus from insurance agents is that claims are covered by what is stated in the policy whether the work was done by you or a contractor, permitted or not. However, if an insurance claims adjuster finds that the damage was caused by newly-constructed, faulty work, then the adjuster will look to see if the work was permitted and approved. If the work was permitted, then the insurance company will look to the licensed contractor or the city for some compensation.
Problems can arise when the homeowner fails to notify the insurance agency of the new additions to the home. The value associated with your new build or remodel may be much higher than the original contents of the home. Take pictures of your work and send your insurance agent detailed descriptions of the changes. Yes, your insurance cost may go up, but usually not significantly.
Retroactive Permit - Permitting After the Fact
If you have non-permitted work done on your house, it is possible to get a permit after the fact or a retroactive permit. However, your permit department often requires a “rough-in” inspection on things like deck footers, wiring, plumbing, insulation and framing prior to finishing the work. You can go to your permit office and ask for help applying for the retroactive permit and they will assign an inspector to visit your home.
Depending on the remodel, an inspector might make you tear out your walls to determine if insulation values are correct, that proper spacing between drywall and insulation has been added to increase fire "burn through time" and finally, to make sure studs were installed 16-inches on center. If you’ve tiled your new bathroom walls, the inspector could require you tear down the tile to inspect walls or plumbing. This can get quite costly.
When plumbing and electrical work is involved, you are supposed to have a licensed contractor complete the work. If you’ve done work without a permit, you may be required to get a licensed electrician or plumber to sign off on your work which may cost a good bit of money as well.
Do I need a permit to build a deck?
Yes, you do need a permit to build a deck! Safety issues and insurance claims depend on proper materials and installation. Lumber dimensions, spacing, bracing and what type of brackets and bolts you attach to the house are all inspected. Fortunately, decks are easy to inspect because much of the work is visible. Will you get taxed more? Probably not, unless your structure is a major part of the value of your home, your taxes shouldn't increase. If you don't get a permit before building your deck, you may have to dig out a footer to show that proper girth and depth of concrete were poured.
Building without a permit: Fines
Be sure you understand if you or your hired contractor is tasked with pulling the permit and that your contractor has his license and insurance up to date. Also understand that if you are building without a permit, fines may be assessed. If an inspector is driving through your neighborhood and sees work being done to your home, he can tag the home to be fined. Or, if you have a neighbor who doesn't appreciate the loud noise you're making doing the work, he/she may go online to discover that you have not pulled a permit and call the permit office about it. You may overlook the plain envelope from the permit office in your mail explaining that you have a few days to correct the problem. If you don't do so within that time, you may be facing a $100/day fine or more! If you don't pay that fine, the city or county may put a lien on your home. OUCH! Do you see why getting a permit in the first place can save you money?
If you live within the Asheville City limits you’ll be talking to the staff at Asheville Development Services who are very friendly and helpful. And because permitting is about safety, they would much rather you come in after the fact than sell your house to an unknowing buyer. Find them at:
ASHEVILLE CITY PERMITS:
161 S. Charlotte St.
Asheville, NC 28801
City of Asheville Development Services website
Off of Charlotte street, turn onto Eagle street and take an immediate left into their parking lot.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY PERMITS:
The permit office for Buncombe County is located at:
30 Valley St.
Asheville, NC 28801
Buncombe County Permits and Inspections website
Valley Street is located downtown off the traffic circle on College St.
HENDERSON COUNTY PERMITS:
Henderson County Permits and Inspections website
100 N King Street, Suite 220, Hendersonville NC 28792