To Permit or not to Permit (Telltales, harbingers, and fallout )


Nobody loves going to the building department, filing the applications, paying the fees, submitting drawings and the related waiting and red-tape. But you have to– not just because its the law- but because it will save you countless hours later, prevent fines, and actually improves the value of your home, building or property when you go to sell-That’s because everything is legit and there are no asterisks next to the listing.  One other thing in case you want to avoid filing for the permit- You are probably going to get caught!- here’s why:

Dumpsters: Construction creates debris which needs to be collected and removed. Yes you might be able to store some debris in the garage and get some fly- by- night garbage hauler to swing by on the weekends- but dumpsters often have to be placed on the street or in a driveway and are easily noticed. Frequently municipalities require permits for those dumpsters. So when a dumpster has a permit or is plainly visible, and there is no imagesconstruction permit-that’s a red flag. One can bet the building department will send out an inspector to see what’s going on.

The UPS guy, Postal worker, Fed Ex gal– We often become friends with those folks we see frequently. It should not come as a surprise that these driver’s zipping around town see what’s going on.  And yes- they often convey what they see to the curious building departments when they deliver packages to them.

Google Earth- Those cool satellite images?  Indeed , one of my friends who has a kid interning at local building department told me:  “The have the interns combing through the street grid by satellite image and looking for undocumented Pools and decks. They then ask the interns for groups of house locations , then send out inspectors. This helps generate thousands of dollars in fines for the municipality”.   Thank you technology.

Sanitation workers- While they are removing the garbage , the workers notice construction debris and contact the building department!



Neighbors-Sadly many of those who live close by are not your friends. Remember last year, when Aunt Ethel came to your party? She parked her car partly on your neighbors lawn and they did not take kindly to when she left her coffee cup on their lawn.  Here’s their chance for some payback -with a quick call to the building department. Ouch!

Roving cars that slow down- many a building inpsector is know to take the long way home or back to the office and jot down suspicious addresses or may stop by for a brief knock-knock.


Nearby construction projects-You should not be surprised that the inspectors are on the look-out for non-permitted work. One of the easiest tells is the Owner doing un-permitted work near a properly filed project. The noise, the debris, the tools all point to something that may not be a “repair”.

If you have questions call the local building department an explain what you are thinking of doing before you get underway to check whether or not a permit is needed.