Thursday, April 5, 2012

Step 7 - Permits

The first and most significant thing to keep in mind regarding the permitting process is that although every jurisdiction has its own rules for issuing permits, each typically share an underlying view that their way is the way.   

The first six steps I've described do not require permission from your local authorities.  However, when you start demoing walls and addressing the bigger issues, there's a good chance you'll need a permit.  I'd love to write down everything one might need to know regarding this topic (as well as the accompanying inspections and adherence to building codes), but all of this varies from place to place.  I've worked in too many municipalities to count and they're all different.  In addition, it's common for them to make adjustments and changes to how they do things periodically so I'm always prepared for anything when I walk into the local office that oversees building and construction.

In some places, you'll have complete freedom to do what you want to your property without any outside involvement from others.  However, some parts will require that you provide them some details of your home improvement plans and pay a small fee before you receive a post-able sign and can begin work.  Some may ask for drawings while others will be satisfied with a written description.  One village or city may require that you hire a licensed General Contractor to supervise/manage your renovation project while other towns may allow you to act as your own GC if your name is on the deed.  Then, there are some areas that will expect you to make the house your home when you're finished and might even require you to sign a document pledging to live there as a resident for a stipulated time period upon completion.   

So in other words, be ready when you go in for your permits and don't be surprised if you're faced with someone on the other side of the counter who steadfastly explains, "This is how it's done" as if there's no other way.  I've experienced this on dozens of occasions and with time I've grown to understand that when this happens the clear reality is: This is how it's done there.  When I'm navigating my way through the rocky permitting and inspection waters, my goal is to receive my Certificate of Occupancy at the end of the project.  However, to reinforce my point on the inconsistencies of this process even further, not all towns or local authorities issue a C.O. after the final inspection is passed.  So when you go to get your permit, be ready for anything.

And finally, get your official authorization for improvements you know you're going to make, rather than things you might do.  If you know you need to replace some drywall, paint inside and out, and you'll also be popping in replacement windows, then pull a permit for those things.  Don't talk to the local administrators about the possibility of skylights, a new master suite with a jacuzzi tub, or other things you've considered.  Just keep it simple and when you're rock solid on additional scopes of work you'll be doing yourself, you can get the bureaucratic green light for those things then.  Bringing these things up prematurely will only cloud the issuing process and could result in you paying for permission to complete work you won't actually do.   


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