Building Permits: Protect Yourself

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Fire safety burning toy houseFinishing and upgrading basements are one of the biggest investments a homeowner will make, and it’s one that often pays off for years to come, earning them the nickname “mortgage-helpers.”

With real estate prices climbing ever-higher, a suite in the basement is a brilliant way to make your investment less painful every month.

But, as the old adage goes, it takes money to make money, and there’s no bigger potential money-pit than a basement reno.

That massive investment means many homeowners are willing to cut corners on the transformation. In some places, that’s okay, but most of the time, we get what we pay for, and people often don’t want to cut the visible corners.

Knowing how the money keeps piling up, a homeowner might decide one thing they don’t really need to do is get building permits, since, hey, it’s their home and they know what’s getting done in it, right?


Investing in the process, not just the result

It’s a bad enough when a homeowner wants to skip getting required permits to save time and money, but when it’s a contractor suggesting the shortcuts, that’s a whole lot of alarm bells ringing. Instead of skipping the permits, skip that contractor.

But why is skipping the permit process a bad plan, no matter who’s doing the work?

There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in that basement project. Wiring, plumbing, structural, foundation — it’s all important, and there could be multiple permits involved in the job because there are multiple skill-sets involved.

If you’re planning to do your basement up to rent as a legal suite, local laws might require permits (electrical, building, development, etc) before you can rent it out. In a lot of areas, suites are illegal and it’s just another reason why a homeowner might want to skip the permit process, just to avoid any tricky paper-trails about their crafty plan to get a little cash on the side.

We all like to imagine that renovations are as simple as put this wall up, throw some wires in, you’re good to go. But it ain’t.

What if, by fluke, you missed a fatal mistake? A nail that’s split some wiring, a screw that hit some PVC piping, an unsafe junction box — something that screams fire-hazard or major-flood potential?

What if it’s something an inspector would have caught?

Building Inspection

Safety is a part of good design

And, God forbid, what if a fire happened, originating in the suite you built, that you skipped getting a permit for? What if the insurance company says there’s fine print in your homeowner’s policy forbidding non-permitted work on the property, and your claim is rejected? What if you’re liable and someone’s injured, or worse, killed, because some horrible consequence happened from faulty wiring, bad plumbing, or a compromised structural support?

Then, would it have been worth it? Is that a cut corner you could live with? And if the tenant survives and decides to sue, and you’ve got no permits for the work done, who do you think claims court will side with?

Yes, these are somewhat macabre thoughts, but it’s not just your bank account we’re talking about. We’re talking about the bottom of a structure where people will spend as much as 80% of their lives inside. Their safety needs to be a concern, as does yours.

Planning for the future also means making sure you have one

Then there’s the resale value of your home. As someone who’s worked their whole lives for their savings, if it were you walking into a home on the market and you found the propertu’s basement suite was completed well after the original purchase, would you ask who’d done the improvements? Wouldn’t you ask for proof it had been done to code? Wouldn’t you want to see a permit?

And wouldn’t you think the basement was a more valuable asset that you’d pay extra for if it was indeed done to code and had the paperwork to prove it?


Sure you would. Anybody who knows a thing or two about a thing or two would want that kind of proof, and rightly so.

When it comes to liability, insurance, and your safety, it’s not worth cutting corners to save a few dollars. Take out permits and do your work up to code, and it’ll pay off in the long run.

Not only will you get a better resale value on your property, but better quality work in your basement suite will net you better quality tenants and a higher monthly rental price.

Think about the big picture. It’s not just money, it’s safety. It’s lives. Permits aren’t just the bureaucracy getting in your face, it’s an important safety factor in home construction, and the pain-in-the-butt factor will be something that has you resting easy long after the work is finished.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.