How to Get a Building Permit: 7 Things You Need to Know

by Team eLocal
Plan approval. Blue stamp APPROVED on blueprint. 3d illustration

Planning a major home renovation is exciting, but it's important to get the necessary permissions before you start work. Understanding how building permits work and why you need one can make the planning and application process less daunting.

Below, you can find a crash course on acquiring a building permit.

Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Building Permit

1. What Is a Building Permit?

A building permit is official permission from your local government agency to construct a new building or make certain additions to an existing structure. Building permits have two purposes:

  • Ensuring that all new structures are safe for occupants, now and in the future
  • Enforcing local zoning and land-use laws

Your building permit ensures that your project meets certain construction standards. For example, it may address factors such as fire protection, electrical code compliance and water lines.

2. When Do You Need a Building Permit?

You'll need a building permit to construct a new building or make major structural changes to an existing building. For example, you'll usually need a permit to build a home addition, add a story to your home or carry out major renovations. However, you don't normally need a building permit to carry out minor repairs or home improvements.

The rules about what projects need a building permit vary by area, so it's a good idea to check with your local building and permit office if you're unsure. Your builder can also advise you whether you require a building permit.

3. Why Do You Need a Building Permit?

You need a building permit to carry out certain work on your property because it verifies that your building meets local zoning and construction laws. You could run into serious difficulties if you carry out work without obtaining the correct permissions.

4. What Happens If You Don't Get a Building Permit?

It's never a good idea to start a major renovation or construction project without obtaining a building permit. Otherwise, you risk contravening safety, zoning and land-use laws. The biggest risk of bypassing the permit system is that your property could be unsafe, risking a fire, plumbing disaster or even a structural collapse. It's unlikely that your insurance will cover such incidents without a building permit.

Failure to obtain a building permit could also make it difficult or impossible to sell your house. Buyers' inspections often uncover substandard building work or work carried out without permission. In this situation, you probably won't be able to sell your home without getting a permit and correcting the work.

Finally, renovating without a building permit attracts heavy fines. You may be required to stop work mid-construction until you get the correct permit. Your local government agency could even demolish your project — especially if it contravenes zoning regulations.

5. How Much Do Building Permits Cost?

How much a building permit costs depends on several factors. These include:

  • Where you live
  • Market value of the project
  • Permit and property type
  • Project size

Generally, you should expect to pay between 15 and 85 cents (CAD 0.19 and CAD 1.05) per square foot of your planned addition or renovation.

The national average cost for a building permit for a 1,000-square-foot project is $550 (CAD 690), with a typical range between $450 (CAD 565) and $700 (CAD 880).

However, your permit could cost as little as $100 (CAD $125) for a demolition or small outbuilding, and up to $2,000 (CAD 2,215) to build an entire house.

6. How Do You Get a Building Permit?

You can apply for a building permit by contacting your local building office or government agency. You'll need to explain your plans in detail to determine what permit you need. Then, fill out the application form provided. You may be asked to produce insurance documents or technical plans to obtain permission.

Usually, you'll need to pay the permit fee upon submission of your application. Most jurisdictions require you to display your permit on the building site, and many mandate regular inspections while the project is in progress to ensure adherence to your approved plans.

7. How Long Does It Take to Get a Building Permit?

How long it takes to get a building permit depends on a few factors. Some jurisdictions approve applications within a couple of days, but it could take as long as a month if there's a large application backlog. Mistakes on your application form or discrepancies in your plans could delay the process, and you may be asked to correct and resubmit your application.

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