When is a permit required when rehabbing.

I sometimes see that people need to pull permits before they can start their rehabs. I am trying to figure out when a permit is required? Does it depend on the extent of the work being done? The amount it is going to cost? Something else? I have remodeled two houses so far (pretty close to gut jobs i.e. pretty extensive) and have done them both without permits. Was I just lucky someone didn’t call me on it? Or is the a standard operating procedure, just do the work and wait to be asked to show a permit? Or does it depend if the work is tied to a true business?

Check local laws

I forgot to put main working area will So. California (San Diego and Imperial Countys). Where is the best place to look up these laws. I apoligies for the very basic questions but I am just starting out and have no clue where to even start looking.

I was watching a show a while back where a guy from the east coast went to Hollywood, CA to “strike it rich” in RE. He bought a house once owned by some famous screen actor from way back when. The house was a “gut” job, and evidentally the previous owner did some work that wasn’t ok’d by the local building code people. Long story short, the building inspector happened by one day and shut the whole project down and gave the guy a list of things he needed to do ASAP.

In Bronchick’s book “Flipping Properties” he makes light of permits by saying something like some cities would require a permit to change the light bulb. Best thing to do is call your local building code office and ask beforehand.

the answer is it depends. I’m in SoCal and done a lot of work in rural San Bernardino without permits. In Oranage Co, you would never get away with that. However, you should not just pile up junk in the front yard as the inspector will stop in uninvited if they see that kind of activity.

The bigger question is do you know what you are doing if you get into some serious electrical, plumbing work (this is why the permit inspection process is in place). If you are just slinging some paint on the walls, updating a bath with new vinyl and a vanity, then you probably don’t really need a permit.

Do your research about the laws. The last thing you need is for a propective buyer to find out that your beautiful new remodel wasn’t done to code and the whole thing has to be redone to bring it up to standard. Could be a very costly oversight. Especially in California where everything is regulated, taxed, and restricted to the hilt.

My 2 Cents about this topic…which is a very important topic. I am writing a book about real estate investing and address this topic below.

All of the advice given so far is excellent. Checking the local laws.
In addition, you want to be sure that any renovation that could possibly affect health and safety of the ultimate homeowner will probably require a permit.

  • Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC…venting, structural, etc.
  • Also, any exterior renovations, additions, accessory buildings that affect lot area coverage or set back requirements could require a permit.
  • I have seen several new homes built in my area in which a few builders did not adhere to height restrictions, yard set back and and side yard requirements, etc. and the county shut them down. One of the houses is a $1.2M house when it will be completed, but the entire side of the house has to be moved in 4 more feet from the the side yard.

a. You want the peace of mind that your rehab was done to code. It will help you sleep at night, it is easier to sell when you can show all of the approval stickers/forms and you will be proud to turn over the keys.

b. Some contractors will tell you that you do not need a permit…You might hear things like
“They will never know.” “How are they going to find out?”

Working with Zoning, Permits and Historic.



It is easy to understand that people get frustrated dealing with the bureaucracy of local governments. The individuals who work in the zoning, permit and historic offices are just doing their job and do have stressful jobs with a lot of time pressures on them. If they do not do a good job, the city could look really bad, really quick.



Working with zoning.
Working with the permit office
Working with the historic review board.

In working with the above listed departments, I try to always have the following mindset, which I think will serve you well if you adopt it.

My mindset is that I will do everything by the book on every property. This means verifying the zoning, verifying whether or not historic applies and determining what permits I need for the particular project. I always fill out the building permits, etc. based to the best of my ability trying to include everything that they are asking for. There are times when you may not know how to answer a question on the permit application, or how they want the information provided. It is best to ask for help rather than to guess.

Let each of the departments know that you intend to do a lot of projects, and that they may see you often; and that you want to know exactly what they are looking for so that you make sure your properties are meeting all of the goals of the city in terms of that particular zoning and other compliance issues. This goes a long way. Why do I do this?

Now, when I go in to get permits, they know me and they know that I am a person who crosses all the t’s and dots all of the i’s. I am now doing multi-family development projects, which have many more restrictions, permit issues, etc. My friends in the zoning, permits and historic offices are helpful and not combative since they know that I will be willing to learn and am there to help improve the city by working with their direction.

So many times, I see people at these offices yelling at the people in frustration. It is definitely not productive.

If you find yourself in this type of situation, step back, evaluate and re-approach them seeking sincere help on how to solve your problem.

I agree - you can usually check your local city building department beforehand and ask what jobs need a permit pulled. Many times its very easy and not expensive.

Be careful doing demo - exposing any old wiring or plumbing may create problems of having to re-wire or bring plumbing up to code - requiring permits.

Also, any additions (which add SF’age) not previously permitted can cause problems as well.

It doesn’t matter if you are a business or a dyi’er - the city requires permits for specific jobs. Some of them are crazy too. LOL

I don’t know about other states, but cities here in CA often require a permit simply to have a garage sale. For cryin’ out loud… a garage sale. It’s not like I’m running a sweat-shop in my garage… I just wanna sell all that crap that nobody even on eBay would buy.

Okay, I feel better now. :slight_smile: