When starting repairs, first of all, study the issue of obtaining permits. For many types of work in the US, you must obtain prior permission (permit) from the local building department.



PERMIT is the permission of the local authority to perform a certain type of work. These can be permits for both the construction of a new house and the renovation of an existing building. A permit is issued for each type of work that requires it. The customer is responsible for obtaining the permit and its observance, i.e. property owner.

CONSTRUCTION CODES — are the norms and standards of construction work. (For example, the washbasin must be installed no closer than 4 inches from the walls — this is the code).

In fact, permit implies compliance with all building codes. At certain stages, an inspector comes and checks the implementation / compliance with these codes. If everything is observed — everything is fine, you can build/repair further. If not, redo it (and pay for an additional inspector visit).

If you don’t get any permission? What are these permissions for?

Many people think this way — I am the owner and in my house I can do whatever I want! Essentially yes, as long as it’s not about your safety and the public’s. Therefore, all works that are related to electricity, gas, water, as well as all structural changes must be approved. Otherwise, the caught violators will face decent fines (and often orders to redo everything).

But, if it so happened that you are already doing repairs, you have not received any permits and are not going to, then at least take an interest in the codes (norms) because if you are going to sell the house, your buyer will bring an inspector and you did all the repairs «wrong» then you could be in serious trouble. One of the options for «correcting this oversight» is to confess to the construction department yourself what you have done. For example, you completed the second bathroom. Without permission. Now you have to sell the house and you are tormented by doubts. The building department will of course write you a fine (often double the cost of the permit itself). You will have to go through an inspection and if your bathroom matches today’s codes — you are lucky and consider yourself off easy. If not, you will either have to sell with the mark city codes violations, or eliminate all the shortcomings, or return everything to its previous form.

image building and renovation permit

How much does a permit cost?

Building and renovation permits make up a large source of income for local governments and, accordingly, cost US money (from $50 to several hundred). The cost of this permit depends on where you live (state, city) and what exactly you will build / repair. The higher the cost of the proposed work, the more expensive the permit.

What kind of work is required to obtain a permit?

In fact, permission must be obtained for many works. In America, the law is very different from state to state, so always try to find information on the issue in your state. You can always call your city’s building department and ask (confidentially) whether permission is needed or not.

We list here the main types of work that require permission in many states of America:

  • demolition of load-bearing walls (sometimes permission is required for demolition of non-load-bearing walls to prevent builder/owner errors);
  • making any changes to the roof structure;
  • house layout change;
  • if you use a dumpster (dumpster) during the repair and «park» it on the street (public place), then a permit is required. If you put it in the yard, you won’t need a permit;
  • installation of new power lines or/and installation of additional circuits;
  • all plumbing work;
  • the construction of any extensions, including carports, the transformation of a garage into a living space also requires permission;
  • all works related to the construction, repair of fireplaces and stoves;
  • installation of windows / doors with a different opening system;
  • installation of new heating systems;
  • building a deck (veranda) that is 30 inches from the ground and above;
  • pool construction;
  • felling trees (may require permission);
  • setting the fence above a certain height (usually above 3.5 feet). Sometimes such a permit requires agreement with neighbors.

For all other works, permission is most likely not needed (painting, tiling, interior carpentry, replacing interior doors, replacing plumbing without moving it, replacing kitchen cabinets, etc.). Reminder: This information is for guidance only — always check with your local building department if you need a permit or not.

image permits

How to get a permit?

If you find out what permit and what kind of permit is needed (electrical, plumbing, for installing a heating system, etc.), you fill out an application form and pay the cost of this permit. Sometimes it is necessary to describe / draw the proposed work. Permit can be obtained immediately, and it may take some time to agree. In some cases, the application may be rejected, or require significant changes and improvements. In any case, work can only start with a fully agreed permit.

Do I need to get a permit for repair work in the apartment?

By law — yes, if you do work from the list above, for example, demolish a wall! Or change plans. But if we are talking about an apartment, then it is necessary not only to obtain a permit (everything is as described above), but also to obtain the approval of the «local authority — association» and more on that.

Making repairs without any notification to your association is undesirable and highly discouraged. First of all, try to study the Rules and Regulations, Restrictions on your own (this is such a set of rules for many pages about life in your community, what you can and cannot do and what are the consequences). It is ideal to study this document before buying a property, and then suddenly there is «such a thing» …. Most likely, this document will contain a section on repair work: what days and times can be done; what to do with construction waste, etc. Then, write a letter of intent to repair to your association and list the types of work you intend to do. In some cases, the association will simply write to you that you can start when repairs are prohibited, whether it is possible to use the elevator, etc. (as in the above document).

If you are just going to refresh the apartment and paint the wall — you can not notify the association. What works do not require approval at all:

  1. Painting work
  2. Carpentry work (replacement of interior, doors, skirting boards)
  3. Replacement of lamps, sockets and switches
  4. Replacement of taps and faucets

image renovation permit

But in some cases, a more serious agreement between the association and the engineer is necessary. In which cases:


If you are going to make structural changes — demolish/build a couple of walls you will need to get approval from the building engineer.

Floor repair

Since the repair of the flooring often entails the replacement of not only the top layer but also the lower layers (plywood, soundproofing layer) — an association agreement is necessary. In many condominiums (apartment buildings), replacing carpeting with hardwood or laminate flooring in bedrooms is prohibited. For soundproofing purposes. Therefore, be sure to clarify this question, there are cases when the owners of the apartment completely had to remove the new floor …

Plumbing work

All pipes that are in the wall are the property of the building, which means that all repairs must be carried out either by the association (if you have problems with pipes — do not hesitate to ask whose responsibility it is to repair it — often the responsibility of the association). So in any case with plumbing work, you must notify the association. Often, when replacing / installing a bathtub and other plumbing, it is necessary to turn off the water. This is done by prior arrangement with the association (sometimes for money). In this case, the association will most likely want all plumbing work done by a licensed professional.

image signing permission

Electrical work

The relocation of power lines must be done by a licensed electrician with the permission of the association (building engineer).

Replacement of windows and entrance doors

As a rule, the association does not prohibit the replacement of windows and doors, provided that the new windows will not differ from the rest of the windows in the building in appearance (color, layout). Sometimes the association provides a list of agreed window and door manufacturers.

Replacement of heating boilers and air conditioning systems

Often in condominiums, this is the property of the building and the owner does not have the right to replace the old heating system even in autumn. Always clarify.

If you started remodeling your apartment without the agreement/permission of the association, the association has a completely legal right to fine you. If you refuse to pay fines, the association can go to court and then you have to pay the fines but also the association’s costs for a lawyer. In general, do not quarrel with your association.

A couple more tips if you live in an apartment:

  • always ask questions of your association in writing
  • if possible (financially) look for builders with extensive experience in condominiums (and with good reviews)
  • think carefully about parking your builders, how materials are moved, and how rubbish is disposed of
  • chat with your neighbors about future repairs, apologize for the noise and dirt.