Do I Really Need a Building Permit?
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
As tempting as it may be to jump right into a renovation project, it is important that you stay on the up and up with the local building authorities.
In addition to ensuring the safety and durability of your home, a permit is something you will wish you had if you ever go to sell your house after performing work on it.
When selling a house, in Louisiana anyway, the seller usually must complete a form that discloses known past and present deficiencies and modifications. On that form, for structural modifications in particular, it asks point blank if the work was properly permitted.
I for one would prefer not to lie on a legal document that could become grounds for a lawsuit down the road. Plus un-permitted work runs the risk of being shut down by the city, resulting in (best case) lost time, fines or even being forced to redo work.
Call me risk-averse, but I’d rather just pull the permit and do the job the right way.
In East Baton Rouge Parish (EBR), homeowners can pull their own building permit (to remodel an existing home or build a new home) after signing an affidavit agreeing to hold the parish harmless for any defects that may arrise as a result. With this type of permit, you are essentially acting as your own general contractor.
Note that certain work will require separate work permits to be pulled (electrical, plumbing, mechanical, etc.) if applicable.
Again, in EBR the homeowner can pull their own work permits but in doing so precludes themself from using a licensed contractor to perform the work. In other words, I can’t pull the electrical work permit (under my existing building permit) and then turn around and hire an electrician to do the work. If I pull the electrical work permit, I need to do the electrical work myself.
Your local inspection office will have a list of all work that requires a permit. Some of the things that require a permit can be a bit surprising. For reference, here is EBR's list of work requiring a permit.
Now that we’ve covered the reasons you should pull a permit when the work requires it, let’s get into how the process works.
First, before heading to the permit office, you need to have a clear idea of yoir scope of work. I’ve said it in the last post, but it is just as applicable and critical in the permitting office: quality plans can make or break a project.
Think about it. If you’re the plan reviewer sitting in front of a computer reviewing application after application after application, which one are you going to be more likely to question or challenge: the application submitted with a nice, clean set of computer generate, scale drawings, or the application submitted with a hand sketch on a piece of printer paper? Plus a knowledgeable designer will have a pretty good idea of what the permit office wants to see and will include those details on the plans.
So, now that we're on the same page about getting work permitted, how do you go about pulling one?
First, I find it easiest when dealing with most state and local governmental entities to go to the office in person and with a positive attitude. Bringing a box of donuts in the morning could go a long way towards building a rapport with staff, too.
Always speak to employees with respect and maybe play a bit ignorant when asking for assistance. You never know when someone will give you a bit of helpful information concerning what actually does and does not need to be included on an application. Oftentimes, less is more on these forms.
In our case, the office was closed due to renovations, so I was stuck applying online. It was a relatively painless process. There were some quesitons that I was not sure about, so I just left them blank to see what happened.
I figured the office would call or email me to get any information that truly was required to complete the review, and it turned out I was correct. There was one blank that I needed to research and fill out; the others turned out not to be as important as the application made them out to be.
To summarize, fill out the application as accurately as possible. If you are unsure, leave the question blank. Don't guess, and don't lie.
One more thing, in EBR at least, it is absolutely worth it to pay for expedited review. We had a permit in our hands within a week for this current project. It probably would have taken a month had we let the local permit office take their time with it...
Now we are in the process of demolition and getting quotes to select our subcontractors, and we will be sure to share updates on the project as we make progress.
In the meantime, if you need any help finding or selling a home or investment property, reach out to Sally or check our SoldWithSalBR on Facebook. As always, if you have any questions relating to real estate, remodeling, Baton Rouge or life in general, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.