Remodeling a house is something that most people tend to do at least once in their lifetimes. Renovation is usually done either to fix an underlying issue or to increase the property value of one’s home. Small renovations such as replacing your floor can be done without permits but if you don’t get it for major projects, you may face severe consequences. Let’s talk about what happens when you remodel house without a permits.
What happens when you remodel without a permit? If you don’t get caught then nothing, but if you accidentally get caught remodeling without permitting you can expect a financial penalty and a temporary halt of the project. Not having permits can also make selling your home very difficult.
But why do you have to face such consequences if it’s ok to not get permits for small jobs? The answer to that and more will be discussed below.
What happens when you remodel without a permit?
Several consequences come with working on renovations without getting the required permits. They are as follows:
- Safety – The most important consequence is safety. The rules exist for a reason which is to protect each homeowner from building something that might one day collapse and cause destruction of property and life. Making small renovations may not lead to safety issues but if it has anything to do with the structure of the building or something that leads to the collapse of any section or working part in your home or commercial property, it will have severe consequences. For instance, if you are planning to get some electrical work in your home or place of business, getting it done by an unqualified individual who won’t bother getting the right permits might lead to a fire one day. The risk to one’s life is not worth risking over a little bit of time, effort and money.
- Property value – A lot of people renovate their property to increase its property value to get more value for a future sale. It might seem like a good idea to ignore getting permits at first but sooner or later, it will catch up with you and at that point, it will be too late to fix it without spending an exorbitant amount of money. Why? Today, most people who seek to buy a property always check if the property has followed all the required rules and regulations. After all, why would a prospective buyer buy a property that might cost them more money, time and effort later on? Therefore, by skimping on the required permits, you might have your property on the market for years without getting any serious offers. In this case, all the money and time you spent on renovations will become wasted.
- Seeking loans – If you require money and need to take a loan by mortgaging your property, it is essential to have all the proper permits. Banks don’t play around when it comes to lending money and once you apply for a loan, they will get your property inspected to make sure that they are making a safe investment. This is also the case if you bought a property on a loan without making sure it had all the permits. In this case, the bank or lender will demand you to immediately pay off the loan. This may not happen often as most people who buy property on a loan will usually never buy one without proper permits but if it does happen, it can completely wreck your life.
- Insurance claim – Insurance companies are always looking for a way to make sure that they don’t have to pay for unnecessary and illegal claims. If you remodel without a permit and ever have an accident that leads to the destruction of your property, your insurance company won’t be able to cover your losses as the accident may have happened due to you not following the safety standards. This will apply to any scenario that leads to either destruction of property like a fire caused by bad electrical work or even flooding in your home. Apart from this, if someone accidentally slips in your property due to you not following the required rules and regulations, they can sue you for it and your homeowner’s policy won’t be able to cover the costs. You can read more about it in article: “Does Insurance Cover Unpermitted Work?“.
- Penalty fees – If the city officials discover that your property had work done without getting the necessary permits, they will levy a substantial penalty fee upon you and also demand that you get it fixed. This can happen either after the work was done or during. Some cities will even issue a stop order and get your construction work paused in the middle causing you to lose a lot of money. This may not be a one-time penalty fee either as you may be charged as much as $500 or above per day. Unless you are rich, such a fee can completely break down your finances and put you on the path of bankruptcy if you aren’t careful.
On top of all the above reasons, you also have to account for the time that got wasted in the initial work. Without having permits you will have to spend more time to fix it. Sometimes the fix may involve more work than you initially did which in turn would lead to a substantial amount of monetary loss.
What are some of the solutions you can go for?
There will always be consequences when you remodel without a permit. However, there are a few things you can do to rectify the issue based on whether you are getting work done currently without permits or if the property you plan to buy/bought had unpermitted work done.
Looking to buy a home where unpermitted work was done
If you found out that the property you were planning to buy was remodeled without a permit, you can do either of two things. The easiest thing to do is to request the current owner to get the necessary permits and make any necessary changes. This will safeguard the value of your future property and allow you to have better peace of mind. In this scenario, however, do not pay an extra penny above the market rate as the fault lies sorely on the current owner and you don’t have to pay more for any rework that is required.
The other option you can go for is to use the fact that unpermitted work was done as leverage to lower the price of the property. You can then fix the situation after buying the property by making use of the money you saved from buying the house at a lower price. In this scenario, you have to hire an inspector to figure out the scope of the unpermitted work that was done. If a large area was worked on without any permits, it might not end up being profitable for you. This doesn’t happen that often as most homeowners won’t agree with lowering the price substantially but if it does, you can do the above.
Bought a property without checking for unpermitted work
This happens sometimes but unfortunately, there is no guaranteed solution for it. If the area where the unpermitted work was done is small, then it won’t be a big hindrance for you as you should be able to get it fixed relatively easily. For small renovations, the city might grant you permits retroactively as long as you get it fixed. This will set you back financially of course but it wouldn’t be as bad as it could be if the unpermitted renovation was major.
On the other hand, if you discover that a lot of renovation was done without getting permits, then the only viable option you have is to file a lawsuit against the previous owner for hiding the information from you. It is very important to keep in mind that some states have a statute of limitations when it comes to filing a lawsuit. So if you aren’t sure that your newly bought property has all the required permits, then now is the time to take action.
Found out that the person you hired for renovation is skimping out on permits
Most of the people you hire for renovation work will tell you where permits are required based on the set rules and regulations. Getting caught doing work without permits will after all affect them too as they can get fired or lose their license. However, sometimes you may, unfortunately, hire a company or individual of ill repute for renovating your home. They might be only concerned about finishing their work fast and get paid. Therefore, whenever you get any renovations done, it is your responsibility to make sure that no unpermitted work gets done.
If you discover that they are getting work done without the necessary permits, do not continue with them. Fire them and get reputable professionals for the work. It’s better to lose a little bit of money now than to lose a huge amount in the future.
Do you need a permit for small remodeling work?
For a lot of small remodeling work, you won’t need to get any permits. To know exactly which type of work doesn’t require permits, you need to get in touch with the respective officials or gather the information from the government website. In most cases, minor work that costs less than $4000 or takes less than 1 week to complete won’t require any permits to get the job done. However, if the same work involves making changes to the building envelope, alter ventilation, fire safeguard standards and so on will require you to get permits.
It’s also important to note that building permits aren’t the only ones you need to get. Based on the scope of the remodeling work, you may have to get electrical, plumbing or mechanical permits too. In those too, there are exceptions. So to get a better idea, you should always hire a consultant or a professional to help you know exactly when you need permits and when you don’t need them.
Can I sell a home that had unpermitted remodeling work done?
Whenever you list your home for sale, you need to fill out a disclosure form where you need to answer honestly. If you don’t do so, you risk facing severe repercussions including a civil lawsuit. Moreover, if the prospective buyer hires an inspector to check for unpermitted work and find evidence for it, your reputation will get tarnished. This might result in your house getting stuck on the market for ages. If you got any unpermitted work done, then disclose that fact in the form. You might have to lower the selling price to get the house sold but it will still be better than having to face a lawsuit in the future and lose a lot of money.
Can I remodel my kitchen without a permit?
Yes, but only under specific conditions. If you need to make plumbing and electrical changes or move around walls, then you need to get the necessary permits. If you just want to redo your cabinets or other similar small work that won’t affect the structural integrity of the room or go against any of the set safety standards kept in place, you can do it without getting any permit. When it comes to getting permits, you will need either an electrical, plumbing, mechanical and a building permit or all of them depending on the type of work you plan to do. To ensure that you are making the right decision, always inquire about it with reputable contractors before you get any work done.
Can I remodel my bathroom without a permit?
Similar to the above answer, you can make certain changes to your bathroom without a permit as long as they don’t go against the set rules and regulations. If you want to change the flooring, replace the sink, change countertops, paint the walls, replace the toilet or do minor electrical work like replacing an outlet, you don’t have to get any permits. However, if you want to move your sink or bath, add new plumbing lines, break down the wall, add windows or change the roofline, you will need to get permits as these aren’t minor changes.
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