There is one last piece of paper that you’ll need: a building permit. A general contractor usually handles the permitting, but if you are managing the process, you’ll need to assume the responsibility. While a permit may not be required if your job is small, you should know which side of the line you’re on. Call or visit the building department in your community and find out. Usually there are clear guidelines regarding total cost (permits will be required for jobs costing more than a specified sum) or the nature of the work (if there is plumbing, winng, or structural work required, then a permit must be issued).
To obtain a permit, you will need to submit copies of your plans and specifications. Many states and municipalities require that the drawings bear the stamp of a licensed architect or engineer. In some communities, separate permits are required for electrical, plumbing, and other building tasks. Before the time comes to file, you should find out what paperwork is required, but you can safely anticipate you will have to provide the building department with at least one set of the plans, along with your address, a general description of the work to be done and its approximate cost, and an explanation of what the space will be used for. The cost estimate is necessary because the building fees in many communities are determined on the basis of a sliding scale depending upon the cost or size of the construction.
Don’t be tempted to be cagey and try to get by without a permit when one is necessary. If the building inspector were to find out you have an illegal job going on, he’d probably come knocking on your door pronto. You might then be subject to fines, an order to stop work until further notice, and a whole host of expensive and time-consuming headaches. Once you managed to get the job back on track, you would also have given the inspector a right to be extra exacting in enforcing the building code. Even if you didn’t get caught in the act, renovation work that hadn’t been properly inspected could produce headaches later, too. I know of real estate transactions that have been held up indefinitely and certificates of occupancy that have been revoked where houses have had illegal renovations and significant code violations.
In short: Playing by the rules will cost you a few dollars in fees but is definitely the appropriate strategy.