Construction Law

Who can obtain a building permit?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Understanding what local government agencies require of someone wanting to take out a building permit.

The answer to the question of who can obtain a building permit from a city, county, state, or other government body for home repair, remodeling, or improvement largely depends on the type of building permit that you seek.

You can fill out and obtain some types of permits as the property owner. If you are a renter, not an owner, you will likely need to show proof that your lease or rental agreement allows you to do this and/or specific permission from your landlord.

Other types of permits ordinarily require the signature of a licensed architect, engineer, or contractor. When you have already hired one of these professionals, they will typically take responsibility for visiting the relevant local government offices and obtaining the necessary building permits on your behalf. Their relationships with municipal officials may also help expedite the process, since they will have experience working with the permit-granting agency or office.

Specific requirements for obtaining different types of permits are defined by the agency or governing body that issues permits. In many cases, the permit application will require the name and license number of the relevant architect, engineer, or contractor who will be performing the work.

The public policy behind this, of course, is to ensure that only licensed professionals with the proper training can obtain permits to conduct major work that might impact the safety of your property as well as of the surrounding property. Put another way, a contractor who isn't licensed to do the type of work you are having done won't be allowed to take out a permit for it.

In some situations, you may have both a contractor and numerous subcontractors involved in a renovation. For example, if you are completely gutting a suburban home, the general contractor might oversee carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.

Responsibility for obtaining the various permits required in such a situation will be likely dictated by the contractual documents between the contractor and the various subcontractors. Even if there are subcontractors involved in the project, a general contractor is commonly responsible for obtaining the permits covering (for example) the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing work in addition to the building permit, so as to eliminate the need for any subcontractor to obtain a separate permit.

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