How To Avoid Building Permits In California – A Quick Guide

How To Avoid Building Permits In California – A Quick Guide | SOD Home Group

Building permits are effectively an approval that is granted by local authorities before a new building can be constructed, or before major renovation work can take place on an existing property. There are some areas in the US that do not require permits for construction, however, California is not one of them.

In this article, we will discuss what construction and remodeling work can and cannot be legally completed without a building permit. A quick guide on how to avoid building permits in California.

Can you build a House without a Permit in California?

You cannot construct a new home in California without the relevant building permits.

Homeowners, construction companies, and property developers in Orange County must adhere to the California Building Standards Code. According to this code, a building cannot be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted, or demolished without a separate permit for each building having been issued by local officials.

Although this code is applicable across the state, various cities also have their own code requirements which differ slightly. This means that if you are planning on building a house in California, you should confer with your local town, city, or county authority before making a start on any work.

You can find a comprehensive list of the individual building departments for each city in California here.

Do I need a permit to remodel my bathroom or Kitchen?

For any extensive remodeling work to your bathroom or kitchen, you would require a building permit. This includes adding or moving plumbing, walls, electrics, or any mechanical fittings.

However, you will not need a permit if you are only replacing or removing cabinetry, with no change to the existing layout.

For many, permits can be considered somewhat of a nuisance but they are crucial in ensuring the safety of buildings. Without permits, many dangerous buildings could be erected, potentially putting lives at risk.

Permits ensure that work is completed by the book, as even the most minor renovation work can impact the integrity of a building or cause a hazard. I.E. faulty electrics or installing improper drywall which could pose a fire risk.

failure to obtain proper permits can result in a variety of consequences including city penalties, issues with insurance, and significant obstacles should you choose to sell.

Projects that require a Building Permit in California

Here is a list of building projects that you must obtain a project for:

  • The removal or addition of walls.
  • Changing the purpose of a room, such as a basement or a garage conversion.
  • Changes to the plumbing layout of the building.
  • Replacing the roof.
  • An extension.
  • Demolishing part of the building.
  • Special permits may also be needed for some electrical, mechanical, or plumbing work. E.G. The installation of a lawn sprinkler or an HVAC unit.


How To Avoid Building Permits In California – A Quick Guide | SOD Home Group

What happens if you build without a Permit in California?

Constructing or remodeling a house in California without a permit can result in a number of repercussions that can result in financial penalties, impact the timescale of the project, and possibly even prevent you from being eligible for a bank loan to help complete the work. This can be disastrous for anyone planning to refinance their home.

An inspector will be issued to the site to ensure that the work is being completed correctly and safely. During this appraisal, if it is determined that any work is being carried out without the necessary permits then it is likely that a city penalty will be imposed.

If you have added a home extension and failed to obtain the correct permits, then as well as being issued with a financial penalty, you may even have to remove or rebuild it.

Simply, conducting construction or remodeling work in California without building permits is just not worth the risk.

To summarize, the potential consequences of building without a permit are:

  • City penalties
  • Lengthening the timescale of the project
  • Ineligibility for a bank loan if you are refinancing
  • The completed work has to be removed or rebuilt

If you are working with a contractor then it is likely that they can arrange any building permits for you. This is often recommended as the individual who obtains the permit is responsible for the construction being up to code, meaning you are not liable for any improper work.

For more information, check out our blog post: “Building Permits – What You Need To Know”.

How to get a Building Permit in California?

If you choose to obtain the building permit yourself, then you will typically need to follow the steps below.

  1. First, prepare a site plan for the project. If this is a large-scale project then you may need to hire the services of an to assist you with this and create professional drawings.
  2. Schedule an appointment so the plan can be approved. This can be done in person at the local building department office for small projects, or it can take up to a couple of weeks for the plans to be reviewed if they are extensive. Any revisions to the initial plans will result in further delays.
  3. Once the plans have been reviewed and approved, the permit will be issued so the work can begin.
  4. Inspections will take place during the project’s construction and these will need to be scheduled by you or your contractor. The inspector will verify that the work corresponds with the plans submitted.
  5. Once the work has been completed you will then need to seek city approval and this process can vary city by city.

What can a Homeowner do without a Permit in California?

A building permit is not needed if you are only completing minor home improvements or cosmetic changes.

Projects that can be completed without a permit include:

  • Repainting your house
  • Adding kitchen cabinets with no changes to the layout of the kitchen
  • Replacing certain kitchen appliances
  • Repaving your driveway or external paths
  • Installing floor coverings, such as carpets, tiles, or laminate flooring
  • Erecting a small fence in your garden

As you can see, only very minor improvements to your home can be made without a permit. However, if you are still a little confused about what can and cannot be done without a permit, then feel free to give SOD Home Group a call to talk about your project and get some advice.

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