Why You Should Really Get A Permit for Your Renovation

I’ve been excited about writing this post for weeks. It’s the kind of post I’ve written and rewritten in my head over and over. Sadly, I didn’t think this news would come with quite such a let down.
The exciting news is this: we’ve got permits! This means I finally get to come clean with the real reason we haven’t done any work on our attic in months.
I’m sure lots of you are giving me the side-eye at the moment. After all, we took down that wall between the living room and the dining room weeks ago. We’ve been working on our attic renovation for a few months now. No, I will not try to convince you that we didn’t need permits at the time. We did. We cheated.
Here’s the story: we struggled with our drawings. The Husband is a structural engineer, but he doesn’t do his own drafting and he’s not an architect, so getting the drawings in order to get our permit felt like a slog. It’s a process we started way back in September with our original, full two-storey addition. But, when spring came, we knew we needed to get started or we would never get done.
So, we accepted the potential consequences*; we broke the rules.
I don’t recommend it. Yes, a multitude of renovations get finished without permits, and there’s a good chance that we wouldn’t have been caught, even if we had continued and finished up the whole attic without ever getting the piece of paper stuck in our window that says we’re allowed to. I know our house would have been sound without having someone from the city review it for us – the Husband is a structural engineer, after all. Making sure structures are sound is what he does for a living. And yet, even though we started without it, even though I trust the handiwork of the Husband, his dad, and his brother, I insisted we get that piece of paper.
Even structural engineers aren’t exempt from the bylaws related to renovating. We could have been caught. But, more importantly: resale. Really, this is the only reason I was concerned about it. Say, we sell the house in 3 years. Say, we get a really great offer. Way more than asking, no conditions, and the buyers are happy with whatever closing date we choose. Score, right? And then, they ask one little question just before signing on the dotted line: were the attic renovations done properly, with a permit? If we can’t say yes and present the proof, there’s a good chance those buyers could walk away. For this reason, and this reason alone, taking the time to get the permit and the inspection done properly is more than worth it.  
We started without a permit, yes. But, when we reached the point that requires inspections, we stopped. We got ourselves in order. We jumped through a full month of hoops. We spent a month calling, and emailing, and hearing crickets. A month of mistakes on the city’s part, a month of dragging our heels, a month of frustration. But, finally, that permit is in our hands, granted to us with one condition: we need a letter from a structural engineer to prove that the supporting wall in the basement is strong enough to support the post which supports the beam which allowed us to rip out the wall. (I think I might know where I can find such a structural engineer to write us such a letter.) We can book our inspection, rework whatever we need to, and move on to the fun parts – flooring, drywall, closets.
Except, oh, wait. No, we can’t.

Priorities suck.
* The consequences of not having a permit can suck more or less, depending on the stage you’re at with your renovation. For us, considering the point at which we stopped, we would face a substantial enough fine but nothing more. Note that the fine is lesser if you’ve applied for permits, but just haven’t gotten them yet. If you have finished the whole renovation and get caught, the city can force you to rip out any finishings, drywall, flooring, etc. so they can do a proper inspection. Then, they’ll also slap you with a fine. Not fun! Definitely not recommended.
Moral of the story: get your permits in order, on time. If we hadn’t dragged our feet so much, our attic reno would essentially be done by now, or at least to a useable point. 
Don’t do what we did. 
Do you have any good permit stories? The time you didn’t get one? The time you did? The time your neighbour didn’t get one? 
Please follow!

9 thoughts on “Why You Should Really Get A Permit for Your Renovation

  1. Glad to hear the attic will be back in working action! I am really looking forward to seeing the end result! I love seeing before and after pics of spaces re-done!

    We made sure we had permits for everything that we did, the other problem is that if there is a fire or something and you didn't have a permit Insurance might not cover for damage done.

  2. Yes, good point! Insurance companies always look for a good reason not to pay out.

    Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll be able to get back to working on the attic until September since we must deal with the basement before our next tenants move in. But, now, we're free to do so as soon as we have the time. It's such a relief!

  3. We ran into a permitting nightmare when we lived in Washington state. We had the proper electrical permits and our inspector looked over all our work and said it was okay to hang drywall and do finish work. But when we called for the final inspection the inspector (a different one, you could never get the same guy twice) refused to pass us because the previous inspector had never filled out the paperwork saying it was okay to cover the walls. Fortunately for us he had signed the panel so the city coundn't force us to tear down the drywall. After that experience we still get proper permits, but we really distrust inspectors.

  4. Oh, wow. That is a true nightmare! Lucky you at least had SOME proof! Believe it or not, here in Toronto, there is no such thing as an electrical permit, but all completed electrical must be inspect by the Electrical Safety Authority. Seems odd to me… we're getting well practiced at jumping through hoops!

  5. I kind of wish permits were a little tougher to get where I live. I could walk into the municipal building & permits office with a drawing my seven year old had done in crayon and get a permit.

    Building inspections are similarly lax. When the inspector did a walk through of our foreclosed house &gutted basement he basically just nodded and said "Mmhmm" without really looking at things that were obvious problems.

    Hope you guys find a suitable fix for the basement! All the rain must've been the cherry on the cake ugh! Old houses, gotta love 'em.

  6. Ha! If our renovation hadn't actually been adding living space, we would have been able to do the same thing through the homeowner's 'Fast Track' program. Would have been much easier. Unfortunately, since we had already begun the process back in the fall with different drawings and, since we will be adding square footage, we didn't qualify.

    Noted about the inspections! I hope it's a little more rigorous than that… if we HAVE missed anything, I'd really like them to find it so we can fix it!

  7. Here's my permit story: Four years ago I decided to turn my partly-enclosed front porch into a screened-in porch. We started tearing out the half walls and then it occurred to me that I might need a permit. The Building & Codes Inspector at the time was an elderly man that I'd known since I was a little girl. He came over, took a look at our work so far and said that yes, we did need a permit. "How much is it?" I asked him. He pointed to his cheek and said, "Give me a little kiss right here." 🙂

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