A building permit is a requirement for any person wishing to build a home. Permits communicate to neighbors, city officials and local professionals that you're building in a legal and safe manner and plan to take part in all the required inspections. If you build a house without a permit, you could find yourself subject to fines. Even worse, you might have to take down the structure and begin again in a legal manner.

roofer worker builder working on roof structure at construction site
credit: sculpies/iStock/GettyImages
How to Get a Permit to Build a House

Builders: Owners vs. Contractors

When professional contractors register for building permits, they assume most legal responsibility. Therefore it is in their best interest to make sure the job is up to code. Experienced contractors are very well acquainted with how the building permit process works. They'll gather all the required documents and fill out the necessary paperwork.They'll also work with the building department to ensure it's handled in an efficient manner.

If you are handling the permits yourself, you're considered the owner-builder. As the person in charge of the project, it's up to you to oversee every aspect of the job. When you do so, you lose some of the legal protection that comes with hiring someone else to supervise the project. If this is your choice, it's best to avoid contractors who hesitate to handle permits or who tell you they're unnecessary.

Why Do You Need a Building Permit?

Building permits keep everyone honest. When a building project follows local health and safety laws, it means a safe home and property. Building a home to code ensures sturdy and safe construction. Pipes are less likely to burst and there is no shoddy electrical work to cause fires. Also, a home is difficult to sell with no permits on record.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Building Permit?

When it comes to building permits, patience is required. It takes time to research every aspect of the project and make sure they're in compliance. It can take anywhere from one week to upwards of six weeks for some forms, and all wait times depend on the municipality and type of permit. The more complex a building project is, the longer it will take to issue the permit. Most building departments process permit requests in the order in which they're received.

How Much Does a Building Permit Cost?

The cost of a building permit varies depending on your location and the size and scope of the project. Permits run anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars. Cost usually depends on the estimated value of the completed project. If all goes well and there isn't a backlog of requests, you'll likely have your permit within a month.

What Paperwork Do I Need For a Building Permit?

You'll need to provide a descriptive scope of your project to the building department. Be sure to include detailed plans and any construction drawings. Other requirements include details of plumbing and electrical work. Your contractor will also have to produce a state license number. There may be other paperwork required, depending on where you live. For example, you may need to make geological surveys, proof of insurance and property maps available. Check with your local building department for a list of required documents.

How Do I Get a Permit to Build a House?

Your local government offices have a department that handles building permits. You or your contractor can pick up an application at any time and return at your convenience. When you're ready, bring the application and all documentation to the building department. After a review period, someone will call to let you know your permit's status. The process could take a few weeks, so it's best to be patient. When permits are ready, you can pay the fees and begin work. As various stages of work are complete, inspectors will come by to make sure everything is up to code.

Building permits may seem like a long, drawn-out process but it's better than the alternative: risking breaking laws and codes, resulting in fines and long delays in construction. When it comes to your family's home, you want everything done in a legal and safe manner.