Often a prospective client will ask, “How much does a building permit cost?” Usually this comes up while discussing all the various costs of a project being proposed. Usually the assumption, by the client, is that although a permit typically takes time, the cost is usually only a few hundred dollars, and is a direct expense to the Town with the application. Depending on the size of the project, a few hundred dollars to the Town might be correct, however, that does not reflect the true cost of a permit. Here is why.
In the area I build in, Fairfield County, CT and Westchester County, New York, we have some specific guidelines and attentive Building Departments. In order for a Contractor, with employees or other workers, to “pull” a permit, he/she must be liscenced or registered and show proof of Liability and Workman’s Compensation Insurance. If a Homeowner pulls the permit, they are asked to sign a notorized affidavit that their contractor has Workman’s Comp. Here is the first expense, above the direct cost of a permit, that a permit will create. The Contractor must have Liability and Workman’s Compensation Insurance.
When applying for a Building Permit, there is paperwork to be done including, application forms for Planning and Zoning, The Building Department and at times Inland Wetlands, Health Department, DPW, and Coastal Area Management, dependng on the location of the site. Other paperwork are the drawings for the project and depending on the State and Town, drawings by a liscenced Engineer or Architect. So what choice does an active, complying Contractor have but to hire someone that can assist in all this paperwork? We now have a Construction Company that is more than a carpenter with a truck. This assistant might be the same person that helps with the bills, but most often, they are not the individual doing drawings etc. The administrative time needed for permit applications, compliance and follow up, even on small jobs such as a deck or screen porch, is hours not minutes, and usually many hours. This office has spent as many as 30+ hours on a permit but more typically 5-10. So now we have Administration.
Now that one might be considering hiring a Company that can get permits and has the administration to do so, they are now hiring a Company that will have to build to Code. Permited jobs are inspected by Town Building Officials know as Inspectors. Inspection requests are made with the Town when the work progress is ready for the appropriate inspection. This is one of the ways a Builder learns about the Building Codes. It is the school of “hard knocks”. A lack of updated knowledge, misunderstanding or alternative interpretation of the Code can require corrections made. Builders learn fast and generally know all of the requirements and are bound by profession and Inspections to adhear to the Building Code requirements. This too can add to the cost of construction. My office resently received a call from one trying to sell their house. A 2000 square foot deck had been constructed, without a permit, and the builder only dug 36″ for the footings instead of 42″ as required by code. This had to be corrected in order for the sale to go through. With or without a permit, why would a builder not dig to code? Because it cost less, no one was inspecting the work and he could. Building to Code requirements costs more.
After reading all this, why would anyone want a Building Permit? That is easy. First; projects done without permits can be shut down when caught by Building Officials, this takes time and additional expenses of fines could be imposed. Second; one’s Homeowner’s Insurance may not cover liability on work done without permits, or atleast, Code Compliance. Does the homeowner have the time and the knowledge to oversee the work? Third, more and more Realestate Attorneys are looking for Certificates of Completion, from the Town, on work done, in order for a sale to go through. Non compliance projects have been known to cancel a deal. Fourth, what if the work is built too close to a property line, well or septic system? This could be a real problem.
Obtaining a Building Permit does not insure great workmanship or great service from a Company. It does insure that someone other than yourrself is looking at the project for compliance in Building Codes as well as Zoning, Health and other requirements our Towns enforce. Most Homeowners actually think they “own” their home. In truth, we are only renting them because the Home has either been there longer than we have, will be there longer than we will or both. Our structures out live us. Will the changes you make to your home be comensurate with that task?