Last edited 09 Aug 2018

Building permit

In the United States, a building permit (or construction permit) is an authorisation that must be obtained before some types of construction works can begin. Towns, municipalities and other jurisdictions use building permits to enforce building codes that apply on a local level, ensuring that construction works comply with minimum standards.

The English equivalent is building regulations approval.

There are several reasons why a building permit should be obtained:

  • Doing so is a legal requirement and failing to do so can result in a fine.
  • It ensures contractors use safe and legal construction materials, methods and techniques.
  • Insurance companies may not honour policies if building work is done without a permit.
  • It may be difficult to but or sell a property without a permit.

Whether or not a building permit is required for certain types of work, and the associated fees, differ depending on the local state or municipality rules. For example, an area that is more prone to seismic activity or extreme weather conditions may require a building permit for a type of work that does not require one elsewhere.

Generally, all new construction work, work done to change the use of a structure and demolition work will require a permit. Plumbing, electrical and mechanical work can sometimes be included in an overall building permit, or sometimes may require a separate permit.

Some lesser types of work may differ depending on local requirements; for example, decking, installing a shed, installing siding and so on. Local building departments should be consulted before beginning work of this nature to confirm whether or not a permit is required. Minor works such as simple repairs, decoration, replacing doors and windows, generally do not require a permit.

It is usual for a contractor to take responsibility for obtaining a permit as they are generally familiar with the application process and are liable for complying with its requirements. If a building owner wishes to do work themselves, they must obtain the permit and assume responsibility for complying with the building codes.

When applying for a permit, detailed plans and calculations will need to be submitted, with the complexity of the project determining the detail and scope required.

A permit is usually valid for six months after it has been issued, meaning that the work must begin within this time. The permit remains valid throughout the span of the project until completion, however, it may be necessary to obtain an extension if work is suspended for longer than six months at a time.

If standard plans are agreed to, then pre-approved permits can sometimes be obtained. For example, if the structure or works conform to a basic design provided by the municipality then as long as the plans are followed, there is no need to submit project-specific plans. Prefabricated works that require simple assembly can obtain a building permit from the submission of the documents provided by the manufacturer.

Retrospective applications for a building permit can be accepted if there is an urgent requirement to continue with the works before an inspector can attend (for example if there are safety concerns). Documentary evidence of the work (e.g. photographs, videos, etc.), will usually be required.

If significant changes are proposed after a permit has been obtained, the building department should be consulted.

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