Building without a permit – Penalties, Problems and Consequences

What happens if you build without a permit

We know that many people want to skip the permit process for home improvement projects. That is understandable, sometimes it might seem like the city officials just want to make you take unnecessary extra steps.

But, what happens when the city building inspector learns about you not having the required permits for your project? Let’s find out.

What happens if you get caught without a building permit?

Consequences of unpermitted work - infographic
Problems that will occur if you build without a permit

Consequences of building without a permit are very harsh. The main 5 problems that can happen if you get caught without a building permit are:

  1. Penalties and fines
  2. Demolishing the entire project
  3. Cancellation of homeowner’s insurance
  4. Risking your safety
  5. Having a hard time selling your property in the future

There are many different types of building permits and each local building department has different zoning and building laws. They are all in place to ensure your safety.

In addition, if you live in a HOA community you may be facing public shaming because some communities publish the names of those who build without a permit or HOA approval.

But, if you decide to build without a permit, let’s see the consequences and problems you may face.

Penalties and fines for building without a permit

Penalty for building without a permit
Fines for unpermitted work – freepik photo 1

If you decide to build without a permit, be prepared to pay some hefty fines. If you compare the price of penalties and fines with the cost of building permits, you will see that starting any project without a proper permit is much more expensive.

Local governments usually fine homeowners $500 per day for violating building codes. This will depend on the area you live in, let’s see some common fines for unpermitted work:

  • For example, if you build without a permit in California, homeowners and contractors are liable, and both need to pay fines. According to California Contractors State License Board (CSLB), contractors must pay up to $5,000 per violation and are subject to disciplinary action.
  • Penalty for not pulling a permit in Texas is a triple permit fee plus $500.
  • Fines for building without a permit in Oregon can be up to $2,000 per violation per day. According to the City of Salem’s official website, you have 15 days to comply, or this penalty will be enforced.

A project may be demolished if it is built without a permit

Projects that don’t have a permit can be torn down
Demolition of an unpermitted project

If the county building department finds out that you have a structure that is built without a permit, they will send the site inspection. If a home city inspector concludes that the building is not safe or up to building codes you will be asked to tear down the entire structure or parts of it that you built.

In some cases, they may let you hire a professional contractor that will fix the issues, but you will still have to pay the permit, fines and services of the contractor.

Voiding your homeowner’s insurance

Homeowner’s insurance may not provide coverage for damages caused by unauthorized work for an unpermitted project. Home insurance providers rely on the assumption that the property they insure maintains its structural and mechanical integrity.

For example, if you do some electrical wiring without the necessary permits, and then a fire breaks out, the insurer will refuse to cover the loss if it is determined that the fire was caused by wiring due to substandard electrical work.

Furthermore, if the insurance company becomes aware of an unauthorized project, they may decide to cancel coverage. Securing new insurance can be challenging as insurers often share these types of information. Illegal renovations can void the homeowner’s insurance benefits you would otherwise be entitled to and they won’t cover your liability.

You risk your safety when you build without a permit

You are risking your safety when building without a permit
Structures that aren’t built according to city codes are a safety risk

If you decide to build any type of structure without a permit, you are endangering yourself and your loved ones. This problem is much bigger than paying fines. Building codes and regulations exist for a valid reason.

Even if you managed to build a structure without a permit, there are concerns for your future safety. Bad wiring, electrical or plumbing work can lead to dangerous consequences. You want to make sure that all the construction work is done perfectly.

Unpermitted work is a red flag for future buyers

If you decide to sell your home keep in mind that the law requires sellers to disclose their remodeling projects to potential buyers. If potential buyers discover that you’ve done renovations without the necessary permits, this can raise a significant red flag and dampen their interest.

Also, remember that every home improvement project increases the value of your home. But if you do that work without a permit, that is not the case. Selling a home without proper permits can significantly decrease its value, so you will have to retroactively obtain permits.

How will your local government know that you don’t have a building permit?

Don’t assume that your project will go unnoticed by the authorities. There are several ways authorities can find out about your project:

  • A city building inspector may happen to be nearby or drive by your home. This does sound unlikely, but sometimes all it takes is the right timing. Inspectors have the authority to issue a stop-work order immediately and escort everyone off the property.
  • Your neighbors can report unpermitted projects to the authorities, especially if the work obstructs or blocks their view.
  • Your home may undergo periodic reassessments, possibly on an annual basis, where a property appraiser reviews the condition of your home. If the property assessor finds upgrades that require permits and you don’t have them, you will get caught.

If you are still wondering how to avoid building permits, there are some legal possibilities.

How to avoid building permits?

There are ways to build a structure without permits, this is a quick guide:

  1. Firstly, you have to reach out to your county clerk. You have to know your local building codes. Ask them what is the maximum square footage of the structure that you can build without a permit. In most cases that is under 200 ft².
  2. Make sure that you are within the square footage limits, it is easy to accidentally build a larger structure. So, if the local building codes say everything under 200 ft² is considered a large shed and doesn’t require a permit, you should aim for 180 ft².
  3. For hooking up your structure to electricity, sewage, waste or any other city system, you will need a permit for that. But if you live off the grid, then permits won’t be necessary.

This approach is usually used by those who build tiny homes. A detailed explanation is in the video below.

Caption: Avoiding building permits – Loopholes for homeowners

Projects that typically do not require building permits

Not every home remodeling project requires a permit. Projects for which you tipically don’t need to get a permit are:

  • Painting (interior and exterior)
  • Changing light fixtures
  • Replacing bathtubs and sinks (as long as they are staying in the same place)
  • Replacing faucets
  • Adding new flooring
  • Changing siding
  • Cosmetic updates and modifications
  • Installing storm windows or gutters

Not all counties have the same requirements for different permits, so we recommend that you check with them first if you need the permit and what are the requirements before going any further with your project.

Projects that almost always require permit are the building or installation of:

With site plans you will get a permit easily

We know that the permitting process can sometimes be time-consuming and tiring. But since having proper permits is required by law, there is no point in skipping that important step. If you need a permit for any type of project, order professionally made site plans for permits.


  • featured image – freepik photo, author: wayhomestudio (link)
  • freepik photo 1, author: wayhomestudio (link)
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