Do I Really Need A Basement Finish Permit?
A building permit is required for finishing a basement from scratch as well as remodeling an existing finished basement. There are many negative implications for finishing a basement without a permit. I’ll cover some of those in a minute, but first, let me address the 2 most common reasons that people finish basements without a permit:
1. The owner did some or all of the work and didn’t realize that permits were required, or;
2. The owner hired a cheap basement finishing contractor that did the work under the radar and skipped getting permits to save costs
I understand the first scenario. John Q. Homeowner decides he wants to finish his basement, picks up some lumber at Lowes and weekend by weekend finishes his basement and doesn’t give a second thought to the permitting process. Still not good, but it happens. The second scenario is of greater concern. Any professional basement finishing contractor in the country has no problem pulling the permit for a basement remodel. If a contractor suggests to the homeowner that they should skip the permit to save costs… that homeowner should run, not walk from that contractor. A contractor that doesn’t pull a permit for any project that requires one probably a) isn’t licensed, b) doesn’t have insurance or both. As I mentioned earlier, there are some major negative implications to finishing a basement without a permit.
Liability for a construction project is assumed by the person or company that the permit is issued to. Simply stated, if you hire a contractor to finish your basement and they don’t pull a permit then you, the homeowner, assume all liability for the project. What happens if the framer shoots a nail into his hand… he can sue you for damages and medical expenses. What if the lumber delivery driver slips and falls on your icy sidewalk… you guessed it, he’ll come after you for damages. If the contractor has pulled the permit for the project then he would be responsible for any accidents, etc. A licensed contractor will carry both liability insurance as well as workmans comp insurance and in most cases this will shield you as the homeowner from liability.
The main intent behind building permits is to ensure the safety and performance of project by confirming that all work was done according to the local and national building codes. It is very important that electrical wiring be done properly to avoid a potential electrical fire. Likewise, the plumbing, heating and framing should all be built to industry standards to prevent potential flooding, fire or structural failure. Skipping the permitting process (that can cost between $300-$900 depending on the project) can cost you thousands of dollars down the road. Don’t be short sighted… Look at the permit and inspection process as an opportunity to have professional building inspectors verify that the work performed on your home is safe and professional. At a minimum it will give you peace of mind, but it could also save your life.
One major implication of finishing a basement without a permit is what happens when you try to sell your home. In any real estate transaction that uses a broker or title company there is a verification process whereby they will verify the square footage and improvements of the home with the local assessor’s office and building department. It will be instantly apparent that the county assessors office shows an unfinished basement but the home has 2 bedrooms a bathroom and a wet bar. In this case, almost always a buyer’s agent will require that the basement finish be permitted and inspected as a condition of the sale. This process can cost thousands of dollars including a triple permit fee for doing work without a permit. Fixing a basement that hasn’t been permitted can mean anything from making a few simple modifications to potentially tearing out the entire finish, depending on the quality of the work and the inspecting agency. My advice to you is that in no way, shape or form is it worth trying to ‘get away’ with finishing your basement without a permit.
Aside from the other important factors above, there is almost always a correlation between the quality of the finished project and whether a permit was issued. A licensed and insured professional basement finishing contractor is required to use licensed, insured sub-contractors for work such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical. A contractor that doesn’t apply for a permit can theoretically hire his brother or next door neighbor for minimum wage to install the plumbing, do the framing or any other task in the project. As a general rule, any contractor that has taken the time to establish themselves with a license, insurance and a lengthy track record of happy clients will not be cutting corners with sub-par tradespeople. Of course, there are other factors besides being licensed and insured that separate one contractor from another, but if a contractor isn’t willing to pull the permit for the project, cross them off your list of consideration and move on to a more professional basement finishing contractor.
The permit process is important and should not be overlooked! Make sure to ask every contractor that you are considering interviewing if they are going to be pulling the permit for the project. Then check references, compare warranties, prices guarantees and specifications to make an informed decision about which basement finishing contractor you’ll hire for your project.