Construction Law

What permits or inspections are needed for a construction project?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Permits can be a bother to obtain, but can also protect the homeowner in the long run.

If you are preparing to conduct a construction or renovation project on your home, be aware that you may be required to obtain various municipal or other local government permits before you proceed with the work. You may also be required to have various certified engineers, architects, or contractors conduct an inspection of your property before, during, and after completion of the construction.

Not surprisingly, the types of inspections or permits that your project may require will depend on the nature and location of the work. Typically, the building inspection department, office of planning and zoning, or department of permits in your community will have a listing of permits and inspections required for new construction or remodeling, based on the relevant building and zoning codes.

The purpose is usually to protect your own health and safety, as well as that of the community as a whole, and to avoid situations where work is done shoddily or unprofessionally.

Though many homeowners regard this as a hassle, avoiding the permit and inspection processes can come back to haunt you, particularly if and when you sell your home. The prospective buyer is likely to conduct an inspection at that time, and may insist that you remedy the work so as to bring it into compliance with permit requirements. Besides, wouldn't you like to have an inspector make sure the contractor's work was up to code? Even if your contractor promises to handle all the permitting and inspections, it's worth double checking to make sure that these actually get done.

Each community may have slightly different criteria for what inspections must be done, and when. Do you live in a rural area? Or are you in the center of a major metropolis? This will make a big difference. Moreover, building codes are constantly evolving and can vary by state, county, city, and town.

Most commonly, permits are required for structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing work. This is certainly true in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. More minor work, for example, replacing a pipe under your sink or a ceiling fan, does not ordinarily require any sort of formal permit.

Usually, if you are performing a significant renovation, your contractor or architect will be the person responsible for ensuring that the correct permits are granted and that the inspection requirements are met.

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