I am firmly of the opinion that no one is as detail-orientated as a person in the throws of building or renovating their home. After a few minutes of looking at the building codes, I questioned everything.
Am I allowed to install an external door in my kitchen? Must my back door swing in or out? And after reading about what could happen if I finished my basement without a permit…well, after that, I resolved to do everything by the book when it comes to permits and codes.
My research has not unearthed any strict guidelines about who is always responsible for pulling a building permit, but I’ve included all the potential considerations to help you decide whether to pull them yourself or to have the contractor pull them for you.
Contractors typically pull permits as this is the easiest route. They know what permits are required as well as where and how to get them. However, homeowners are allowed to pull their own permits if they want to avoid being charged for this by the contractor or if they are doing the project themselves.
Homeowners Can Pull Building Permits
The homeowner must have a plan for what they want to do to their home and determine if it needs a building permit within their area.
Next, they must go to their local municipalities building and fill out an application. Many times, they will need to bring certain documents with them to apply.
Some of the common paperwork that may be required when applying for a building permit is a detailed outline of all the work that is to be done and who is being contracted to do the work (if anyone).
Obtaining a building permit also usually involves a home inspection to determine if the project is actually feasible.
If the plans are accepted, the homeowner then posts their permit in the window of their home while work is being done. They may need to get final approval from the city once the project is finished depending on the area.
The steps in this process vary from city to city, and it is highly useful to go online to check the specific process in your city.
When Should a Homeowner Pull a Permit?
A homeowner should pull the permit if they are going to be finishing the project themselves or with a handyman who is a friend or relative and will be unpaid.
If no outside companies are being contracted for the work being done, the homeowner is responsible for applying for and obtaining a permit before executing their DIY work.
When a homeowner pulls the permits, there are usually more hoops to jump through for them, so it can make less sense to pull their own permits when hiring someone else to do the job.
Contractors often need a certain amount of certification in order to pull permits, meaning that some homeowners choose to pull their own in order to hire a contractor who is cheaper and doesn’t have the proper licensing for the project.
This is inadvisable since you want a contractor who follows the law and doesn’t cut corners. They have your safety in their hands, after all.
Some Permits Only Granted if Contractor Hired
Certain projects can only safely be achieved by someone with proper licensing.
Homeowners can pull the permit, but it won’t be granted unless the planning department (or whoever is in charge of permits) is happy that the work will be performed by someone with the experience and qualification to do it.
This varies area by area, but in California, for example, a licensed contractor is required for any project over $500. It is illegal to have someone who is unlicensed perform renovation work that costs above the $500 mark.
Some areas have laws like this one, but other areas may be more lenient, and it always depends on the project. Check your cities laws regarding contractor requirements to be sure.
There are also typically laws about who can install electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
Contractors Typically Pull the Permits
Most of the time, contractors pull building permits since they are the ones executing the work and are more familiar with the process. They will know exactly what work is being done and how.
This is convenient since they will be able to answer any question and turn in any paperwork required by the city. This is more convenient for the homeowner who may not have all the correct information offhand.
Is It Better for Contractors to Pull Permits?
In some ways, it can be more practical for the contractor to pull permits.
Whoever pulls the permit is the one responsible for the construction in the eyes of the city. If anything goes wrong, they are considered liable. This is one reason why having contractors pull permits can be more convenient.
Additionally, contractors often know city operations well and can pull permits more efficiently. They likely know who to go to, where, when, etc. You will be saved significant time by having a contractor obtain the permits.
Furthermore, they are more familiar with the standard length of permit validity and will be more aware of monitoring the time that the build is taking and the time it is allowed to take. Should the permit be neglected and expire without your knowledge, you will have to reapply.
It may be more cost-effective to pull your own permits if your contractor is paid hourly. However, it’s important to weigh what’s important to you, saving a quick buck, or saving yourself from an extended back and forth with the city where you’re liable if anything goes wrong.
Permit Fee Usually Included in Construction Quote
When a contractor pulls the permit, the permit fee will likely be included in their fee. This means the homeowner pays the contractor for the work and does not need to worry about the separate fee. This can save the homeowner more time and give them fewer hoops to jump through.
Does the Contractor Charge an Admin Fee?
Certain contractors may charge admin fees that increase the construction fee by a certain percentage. This fee covers all work the contractor has performed aside from the building.
Admin fees can stretch from 2%-30% depending on how much managerial work the contractor has had to perform and depending on the contractor. But, the admin fee will typically include pulling any and all permits required.
Homeowner Must Ensure Permits Are Pulled
The homeowner is responsible for renovations to their house. They are the ones liable to get in trouble if their house is renovated without a permit. For this reason, homeowners must ensure that permits are pulled, whether or not they are the ones to actually pull them.
You will have to rely on the contractor to a certain extent unless you do in-depth research yourself. But you should at least ensure that they have pulled the building permit. Make sure there is a permit posted in your window before work is done.
Don’t allow work to be completed without a permit, as it can lead to all kinds of hassles! Additionally, you need to make sure that the permit is closed afterwards as leaving a permit open can also cause you issues.
What if My Contractor Didn’t Pull a Permit?
There are circumstances when work is done without the correct permits. You may not have realized you needed a building permit or maybe you thought the contractor would pull a permit, but they didn’t.
Whatever the case is, you will need to remedy the situation by getting the correct permits after the fact. While this may seem intimidating, you will likely not have to remove the work done to your house.
However, you may be required by the city to pay a fee for obtaining a permit after the fact. This fee can either be a set fee or a certain percentage above the original permit fee. Other than the higher fee, the process for getting retroactive permits is like getting permits before construction.
You will need to check online or get in touch with your local municipality’s office to determine the process for your area. You will then book an appointment where you will disclose the work that was done and by whom. The city may want your contractor’s information to ask for a more in-depth explanation of the work that was done.
The new work will need to be inspected to ensure that everything is safe and up to code. If all goes well during this process, you should receive a permit.
You may need to pay retroactive taxes depending on what work you’ve done to your home if it increased the home’s value.
Making sure all work to your home was permitted will increase the selling value of your home, and you may be able to pay less in insurance after permits are pulled.