Lack of Permits Can Create Future Problems

by Dan Krell

If you have ever tried to make improvements to your home, you may know about the permitting process. Unfortunately, do-it-yourselfers and some contractors often feel that it is unnecessary to obtain the necessary permits (including but not limited to building, mechanical, and electrical permits). Excuses given for not obtaining the proper permits range from the silly to the paranoid.

The purpose for the permitting process is to assure that buildings, land and home improvements adhere to the building and zoning codes within the county. The purpose for building and zoning codes are to ensure that our houses are safe, structurally sound, and help maintain health standards.

Although you may perceive that you can save time and money by not going through the permitting process, however, you may find that the shortcut will cost more time and money in the long term. It is not uncommon for improvements that did not go through the permitting process to be required to meet current building and zoning codes, or even be demolished. Decks, fences, and outbuildings are common violations because they can encroach on a neighbor’s property as well as being easily seen because they are not concealed indoors.

If the permitting process is not followed correctly, or (worse yet) if there were no permits for your improvements- there may be future consequences to you, the home owner.

First, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to deny claims related to home improvements that were not completed to meet local building code requirements. Having the necessary permits for home improvements as well as communicating with your insurance agent about them will save you heartache if there is a future claim related to those improvements. For example, if your new deck collapses and injures a guest, your insurance company may deny any claims if it is found that the deck was not built up to building code standards.

A second consideration is that you may run into an obstacle or two when you plan to sell your home. Having improvements that were not permitted by the Department of Permitting Services and passed by the building inspectors could have serious repercussions on your sale. For example, one home seller had the appraised value of his home reduced by the home buyer’s lender because the owner never obtained a permit to construct the large addition he added the year before. Additionally, a home buyer may require a seller to have such improvements be inspected by the county.

If you did not go through the permitting process for your home improvements and you decide to “come clean” (either voluntarily or because someone required you to do so), the county will have your improvements examined by an inspector. If you are lucky, you could get away with paying local and state fines. However, to meet building code, the inspector could require you to make minor repairs; sometimes, the improvements are ordered to be demolished.

As a home buyer, you should be concerned about a home’s permit history for the reasons stated above. You can check a home’s permit history by contacting the Department of Permitting Services (

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 19, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.