To get permits, or to not get permits, that is the question...

It seems that a lot of the big rehabbers I know DO NOT get permits when they do most work. They just do it, and if they get caught - then get the permits. Any opinions on this?

In the end you will find that following the law or rules of everything you do is easier than trying to beat the system.

This is a very good point. Most of the misinformation out there about how easy it is to buy and flip conveniently excludes the need for permits. I agree with Rich, easier to follow the local rules than to go back later and tear out drywall for an inspection.

Plus once they catch you on one occasion consider them officially up your a** on all future projects.

There are a whole host of issues involved.

  • There were a bunch of basement apartments on my street, mine included, built without permits. I’m in NYC. Code inspectors came and cited every owner, and one unit was rented out, and the unfortunate tenant was not allowed back home under emergency dispossess. Presumably, the tenant can sue.

  • You can get in trouble with tax authorities LONG AFTER renovations that increased the living space, thus the assessed value, and they can come after you for back taxes, and cheating on property taxes.

  • Had this discussion with my electrician on getting a permit or not getting a permit running new wiring to my rentals. He tells me insurance can deny claims at times if it is determined that a fire is caused by shoddy work, and I had no permit. If there was a permit, same shoddy work, the claim would be paid, because presumably, the work passed muster since permitted work are inspected.

  • Towns in the NY Metro area had gotten tough on code enforcement, and sellers cannot sell properties where renovations were done without permits, YEARS PRIOR especially those not done up to code. I have a rental where the prior owner enclosed a porch to be a bedroom with no permit, and I thought of selling it once, and realtor had an architect come by for a review. He tells me that its not up to code due to the lack of footings under the porch, the additional living area would have required a variance hearing as it the house exceeded the house to land ratio, and tax authorities may want to speak to me on back taxes.

Now I owned this place 25 years, and I knew the prior owner did the improvements. If I did the rehab myself with no permits, flipped it to some buyer, and later he runs into these problems when selling, I’m sure I’ll have a big lawsuit on my hands.

  • I did some renovations on a multi with no permits, and on selling, I was told that there would be problems because the current configuration does not match floor plans on file, and some lenders would check. I had to spend several thousand dollars to retroactively file plans and get the permits. I used a smart “expeditor” (consultant) on this, and I avoided paying a heavy fine. The trick is to file the permits, and not tell them it was for work done years earlier. In NYC, if I hired an architect to draw the plans, he can self inspect, instead of using a city inspector. He simply cerified that the work was done according to plan, not permitting work done years before. BTW, some of the work done found to be not up to code, and had to be redone.

Frank Chin

Land of the fee…ah, I mean free.

Lol I’ve gotta add something. I hate that I can’t do what I want on my property, that I need permission slips before proceeding. Majorly against that, but I’m about to begin my first rehab.

That being said, I was debating on whether to do a bunch of things w/o getting a permit, which is how I initially planned to do it. Yesterday, I spent almost an hour going around online trying to find out how wise that was, and the overwhelming concensus of people who have track records was to just get the permits, and that if you get caught doing stuff w/o permits, you’ll be in a world of shit. You’ll be in a situation that is muuuuch more of a pain than just getting the permits in the first place (btw, about getting the permits, I was there today and it is a HUUUGE pain in my county, everyone kept sending me to the wrong offices, the people needed weren’t in today, etc. Basically your typical bureaucratic shit.

Permits for nonstructural items such as electrical, gas, water can be done online here.

Anything structural needs the plans to be submitted and approved.

A few thoughts:

If you add SF without a permit, you can’t sell it as having that space.

If you don’t pull a permit and get caught. Your site gets shut down until you have permits. At this point, they’re going to be as unccoperative as possible and be up your a$$ for the flip.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Not pulling permits is really a stupid decision to make and in all likely hood it will hurt you at some point. However in my opinion it’s really important to know exactly what work you do needs to have permits for and not listen to town clerks or even building inspectors.

I’ve personally experienced building inspectors with over inflated egos on power trips order my company to get architect drawings for work. They were certainly surprised when I responding with the Towns Building Code word for word.

I don’t think anyone mentioned this yet but you’ve got to be extra careful with contractors on permits. With the majority of guys if you tell them not to pull a permit they hear “Do a sub par job, this guy doesn’t care”. Then out of the blue an inspector shows up and says all the work was done wrong and needs to be replaced. The contractors are going to blame it on you and you’re in a world of hurt. I’ve also experienced the “permit scammers” who try to convince home owners that they need permits for every little job, thus adding expense.

This is just another reason to live in Texas. I invest in the outlaying areas of Houston in unincorporated towns like Spring, Cypress, Tomball. If you drive around town you don’t know you are in these areas except for zip codes that are not 770XX (Houston). they are 773XX or 772XX etc. These areas don’t require permits because they are not in the city.

In most places that don’t require permits and have little or no code enforcement, you can REALLY tell!



duct tape and rubber bands anyone?? :biggrin

Spring, TX is a nice area - so that I have seen. I’ve passed it many times on I-45 coming going/coming from Houston. Also see

That’s interesting…I wonder why that city is not formally incorporated? What’s stopping Houston from just annexing that land??? There’s significant development there, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t just add to their tax base. Around D/FW…especially in Ft.Worth…the bigger cities seem to snap up whatever unincorporated area they can.

For good or bad permits are there to protect everyone. And you may never know who may be buying you property (ie. mother, daughter son or some other relative). Bottom line is do it right wether it be with or with out permits.

Duct Tape is the greatest invention know to man. It can fix anything you have to fix. Houston gobbled up Kingwood and Clear Lake City a few years ago and still has indigestion from it. It stretched services and they just don’t seem to have the stomach for it.

I bought a SFH to rehab because the prior owner ran out of money during his rehab. He knocked down walls to enlarge the small bathroom, so he can install a hot rub, fancy showers etc. Of course, he did it with no permits.

After I took over, I got a contractor over, and he looked a little shook up. He said the hallway wall taken down was “load bearing”, and the roof would cave in after a snowstorm. He showed me the area where’s there’s nothing holding up the ceiling that started to sag.

And I hear about all these places in the “burbs” where no permits are required. A friend of mine living in the city here got a summer place up in the Catskills and he was amazed that not only did he not have to get permits, but he couldn’t find any contractors to do anything since everyone did everything themselves there. When he asked neighbors about a handyman, the answer is always “it’s so simple, why don’t you do it yourself”.

After owning the place for 15 some odd years, sold it, he was tired of painting, carpeting, and finally injuring himself falling off a pole when he tried to hang a “clothes line”. He said “why do I need a place to kill myself on vacations”.

Frank Chin