Building Permits: Do You Really Need One?

All of the inspectors here at John Robinson’s Inspection Group get asked by our San Diego home buyers from time to time if certain modifications or additions discovered (or disclosed by the sellers) need to be or should have been permitted.   Our answer generally depends on exactly what was modified, changed or added to the home inquestion.  Over the years and after performing thousands of pre-purchase home inspections, we have discovered that most home buyers, home sellers, and home owners have no idea of what needs to be permitted vs what may not need to be permitted.  The following list will serve as a good place to start in determining if your addition or modification needs to be permitted according to the latest International Residential Code (IRC) manual.

According to the IRC, permits are not required for the following:

* Detached one-story accessory structures (tool sheds) less than or equal to 200 sq.ft.
* Fences less than or equal to 6 ft., sidewalks, driveways, swings and playground equipment
* Retaining walls less than or equal to 4 ft. from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall & with no surcharge
* Water tanks on grade less than or equal to 5,00o gallons & height/width ratio less than or equal to 2:1
* Painting, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter & similar finish work
* Awnings projecting less than or equal to 54 inches from exterior wall & supported from wall
* Decks less than or equal to 200 sq. ft. & less than or equal to 30 inches above grade and not attached to dwelling or serving a required exit door

We wanted to provide this list of  what typically can be done to your home without a  permit according to the latest IRC to help clear up some of the confusion for our home buyers, sellers, and owners.   If what you are planning to build falls outside of the list above it is safe to assume that a permit is required.  However, your local city/county building official has the final say regarding what needs to be permitted.  So before you build be sure to contact your local building department to prevent problems and hefty fines down the road.

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