Building Permits and Changes

The following article is a new excerpt from the upcoming second edition of my “Home Owners Manual” for Houses.


When a home is built, it falls under a series of ‘codes’ which ensure the home will be safe, solid, and perform properly. A finished home will have its plans on file with the local municipality and building laws require any building changes be approved through a permit application process.

Unfortunately, as this process can be time consuming and involve extra expenses, many home owners have made changes to their home without the use of permits. While this may save money in the short term, it can cause problems for future owners.

Why Do We Need Permits?

Permits and building codes are intended to protect home occupants. They require that the home structure is solid, that fire safety is considered, that the home won’t move in a frost, and that the home meets energy conservation requirements. Permits are typically needed anytime a change to the home impacts structure, emergency egress, or impacts a major utility. 

Minor changes like replacing cabinets in a bathroom or cosmetic changes like painting interior walls would not typically require permits.

Failure to Obtain Permits

If required permits are not obtained for past work performed on the home, the current home owner risks the municipality ordering the home be brought to compliance. This can include:

  •  Decommissioning secondary suites
  •  Demolishing and rebuilding non-permitted changes
  •  Restoring home to original plans

Municipalities find out about missing permits in many ways including neighbor complaints, roaming inspectors and bylaw officers, and even aerial photography spotting decks and additions.

As losing rental revenue from secondary suites or needing to potentially spend tens of thousands of dollars to bring a home into compliance would be a financial hardship for many home buyers, it is critical that these risks be considered.

Contractor Permits

Some smaller job permits are typically pulled by local contractors. For example, plumbers and electricians may need permits to change a hot water tank or do a minor electrical upgrade. Always check with your contractor what permits are required for any work performed and who will be obtaining these permit.

Missing Permits

Home inspectors cannot confirm if homes meet code or if a home had all the correct permits obtained for any work performed. Home buyers and their agents need to investigate thoroughly.

 By James Bell - Author | Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc