The Homebuilders Association of Vancouver (HAVAN) believes If you are like most renovating homeowners, obtaining a building permit is probably unknown territory. When you hire a professional renovator, he will obtain the proper permits. Here are some of the ins and outs of building permits.
Why do I need a building permit?
Your home renovation must meet basic requirements for health, safety and structural soundness as set out by the Building Code. Beyond this, the permit process makes sure that your plans are in line with other municipal requirements, such as zoning regulations and in some cases heritage building designations.
When do I need a building permit?
Generally, a building permit is required for renovations that involve changes to the structure of your home. This includes new additions, reconfiguration of space by moving or removing walls, new window and door openings and installation of fireplaces. Electrical and plumbing permits will have to be obtained separately — the exact rules that apply to your renovation vary in different municipalities.
Some repairs and renovations may not require a permit. These include re-roofing, painting, re-siding, flooring and cabinet installation, and replacement of windows and doors (provided the opening is not enlarged). In brief, work that does not entail changes to structures or systems does not require a permit. Talk with your renovator, or check with your municipal building department to be sure. Also, find out if you need a permit to demolish old structures such as a garage, shed or porch, or to cut down a tree on your property.
What do I need to provide to get a building permit?
The specific requirements depend on your municipality and the type of work you are planning. Often, for simple interior projects, a floor plan will be adequate. For larger projects involving additions, decks or major structural renovations, a full set of working drawings and a site survey will be needed. If your plan requires a minor variance or zoning bylaw amendment, you will be asked to supply additional information.
Who should get the building permit — my renovator or me?
As the homeowner, you are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your renovator can look after this on your behalf. Your contract should specify which permits are required and who will get them. Some municipalities require a letter of authorization before your renovator can apply for a permit for your renovation.
Before a permit is issued, the municipality reviews your plans and drawings. After the work begins, an inspector will visit your home to make sure it is done in compliance with municipal requirements and the National Building Code. There will also be a separate electrical and plumbing inspections.
What happens if I don’t get a permit?
If you carry out a renovation project that requires a building permit without obtaining one, your municipality can issue a stop-work order, which remains in effect until you have a permit. If any work doesn’t meet the requirements of the Building Code, you will have to re-do it at your own cost. In worst-case scenarios, you could be forced to un-renovate your home, such as removing an addition. This could happen if you violate setback regulations for instance. Working without a required permit may also affect an insurance claim arising from the renovation. Check with your insurance representative.
Remember, as the homeowner, you are the one responsible — not the contractor. Renovators who suggest that you skip the building permit, are looking after their own interests, not yours. Fly-by-nighters don’t want their name on any official documents.