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Don't Forget Your Permits When Renovating!

By: Bidmyreno Admin | Feb 16, 2016

Renovation Home Maintenance

Even though permits are a requirement for most home renovation projects, a lot of renovations are done without one. In fact, if the project is DIY or the work is being done under the table, there's an even greater likelihood that a permit will not be obtained. Why is that? If you're planning on a home renovation, here are some facts and information on permits and the process, to give you a better understanding. We've broken it down into the following Frequently Asked Questions about building and renovation permits:

Why the heck do I need to apply for a permit? The permit system protects the home owner. By applying for - and getting - a permit, you are basically telling the city: "here is what we plan to do, please tell us if it meets the standards and then come inspect that those standards have been met." So by going through the permit process, you ensure that:

  • the construction, as proposed, will meet the Building Code standards and other municipal requirements such as zoning and heritage;
  • minimum health and safety standards, including fire protection standards, are incorporated into the design and construction of your renovation; and
  • your project meets minimum structural, fire, health and safety, building standards as legislated by your applicable municipality and province.

Can I get in trouble if I don't apply for a permit? Oh yes, indeed. Maybe. Possibly. Ensuring permits are obtained and followed-up on are ultimately the  responsibility of the home owner, so if you intend to do any home renovations, you need to know that:

  • failure to obtain permits can result in costly construction delays, legal action and/or the removal of work already completed;
  • although you may authorize your contractor or designer to apply for the permit on your behalf, this does not reduce your responsibilities;
  • home owners who construct without a permit (where a permit is required) could be in violation;
  • potential home buyers could be turned off if they can't find permits to match the renovations bragged about in your listing (but let's be frank: often those permits are hard to locate);
  • if work proceeds without benefit of a permit, there is no independent third-party review by a certified building official to help ensure that work is being done in accordance with the Code. Your insurance may not cover claims that may arise as a result of construction undertaken without a permit; and
  • safety standards may be omitted to your detriment and any occupant (present and future) of the building.

So why don't a lot of home owners apply for permits? For most, permits are simply overlooked or are considered a hassle, but there are some additional (valid) reasons home owners don't like to obtain permits:

  • it can cost a lot of money;
  • it can take a few weeks to get a response on your permit, potentially delaying your renovation (however, in some municipalities, you can get your permit fast-tracked, i.e. City of Toronto Residential Fast Track Permit process);
  • it's frustrating how even smaller jobs may require a permit (see: What are some examples of work that needs a permit?);
  • some home owners are afraid that their job may not be approved, or that it will require costly additional work they didn't budget for;
  • some home owners are afraid that the inspection process will reveal other deficiencies in their house that they would be required to fix first;
  • the city gets an opportunity to re-evaluate  your home for tax purposes... yikes; and
  • after all, "it's my house, right?".

What are the steps and costs in obtaining a permit? To get a construction permit, you must complete a permit application. Permit applications are available from the local building department in your area. Take or mail the permit application to your local planning department for required land-use approval and to the local sanitation authority or Department of Environmental Quality for sanitation or septic approval. Even though obtaining structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and manufactured dwelling setup permits are often done by the contractor on your behalf, in some districts and for specific work (such as electrical), the law requires that if a contractor performs the work, the contractor is responsible for obtaining the permit. You will need to undergo some simple steps before obtaining a building permit. First things first, you have to prepare and submit your application form. Include important documentation like blue prints, designs, or other drawings that would concretely describe your planned home improvement project. Save for the permit fee because you will need to pay for it upon your application. Upon submission of your permit application, a plan review can take up to two weeks for one- and two-family dwellings (residential construction) and up to four weeks for commercial projects.  The plan review includes making sure that you are not going against important zoning areas or safety codes. Building Codes require that the permit holder or the owner of the property give notice to the Building Inspector of the readiness for inspection at specific stages of construction. (Contact information and required inspections will be included with your permit.) After your permit is issued, you should remember to perform only those renovations that were included in the plan you submitted. If you and your contractor plan to make some changes, you should inform your city government first before making any changes. What are some examples of work that requires a permit? Renovators should ask their contractor or municipality to confirm what does or doesn't qualify for a permit, however here is a list of the most common projects that require a permit:

  • Structural alterations such as any new construction, additions to an existing building and demolishing or removing all or a portion of a building
  • Changing the house's roofline, including adding dormers
  • Installing, change, or remove partitions and load bearing walls
  • Making new openings for, or change the size of, doors and windows
  • Converting space from one type of usage to another, like changing 2 townhomes into one unit
  • Creating some kind of commercial usage in a residence
  • Anything that requires a new water service and sewer connection
  • Most things electrical, beyond simply changing an outlet or light switch, such as installing new electrical wiring
  • Moving a sink
  • Excavate a basement or construct a foundation
  • Finishing a basement
  • Install or modify heating, plumbing or air-conditioning systems
  • New or altered plumbing
  • Installation of cleanouts and backwater valves
  • Conversion from septic to sanitary sewer
  • Install or reconstruct chimneys or fireplaces
  • A wood burning stove/fireplace installation
  • Build a garage, balcony or deck
  • A deck more than 24" above ground (height may differ in your area)
  • An elevated deck providing principal access to a building
  • A deck that is independent from the house (e.g. is in the middle of the yard) and has a walking surface greater than 10 square metres (approximately108 square feet) in area and its walking surface is more than 600 mm (24 in.) above the adjacent grade (dimensions may differ in your area)
  • An accessory structure larger than 108 sq. ft. in area (size may differ in your area)
  • Attached or detached garages and sheds Livestock buildings, storage buildings

What Projects do not Require a Building Permit? Believe it or not, there are some projects that might not require a permit*!

  • Some small accessory structures (gazebo, tool shed, etc.)
  • Installing asphalt shingles on a roof
  • Minor roof sheathing repairs
  • Repointing of brick veneer
  • Damp proofing of basements
  • Replacing siding
  • Kitchen or bathroom cabinets (not including plumbing)
  • New flooring
  • Installation of air conditioning units or heat pumps
  • Replacing existing forced-air furnace
  • Fences (generally not enclosing a pool)
  • Pool heaters
  • Painting and decorating
  • Landscaping
  • Earthen manure storage structure
  • Laying in a new roof
  • Putting in hardwood floor
  • Installing carpeting
  • Replacing doors or windows on a one-for-one basis
  • Upgrading your countertops
  • Freshing up the exterior with new siding
  • Minor electrical work, such as replacing an electrical outlet

* Note: Although a building permit may not be required, your project must still comply with your regional Building Code and any applicable law, such as the zoning by-law.

Are you planning a renovation project?  Post a project on and let contractors bid on your project!