Understanding the permit process is key to planning and completing a renovation project, so here are some tips to alleviate some of the frustration that accompanies obtaining permits.
The last thing an owner wants when embarking on an expensive renovation is an obstacle that causes significant delays and increases costs. That’s why it’s critical to confirm if a permit is required in the jurisdiction where the construction is occurring.
If permits are required, time will need to be accounted for during the preconstruction period for this review as well as for the related site inspections during the construction period. Both of these requirements can ultimately affect the schedule, which will have an adverse effect on the budget and lost revenue.
Many people are unaware that renovations can require architectural documents which typically must be filed with the local jurisdiction. Municipalities want to know when physical changes are occurring as they have an obligation to protect the community if they feel the changes are not code-compliant. The municipalities perform this through the permitting and inspection process. Changes such as ADA upgrades, the redefining of spaces, upgrades to electrical, plumbing, HVAC, fire life safety systems and roofing are required to meet current codes and are typical scopes a municipality may want the right to review.
The permitting process can be lengthy, depending on the scope and jurisdiction. Some cities review aspects of buildings which might not be part of the scope, resulting in seemingly simple modifications becoming more involved. Others will focus on just the work to be performed. For example, on a recent guestroom renovation, the fire department took the opportunity to require the owner to replace any smoke detector more than 10 years old, even though there was no fire alarm work in the scope. Another example occurred while converting tubs to showers; typically, this replacement will require the drain to be replaced due to the pipe size. Some municipalities are allowing drains to remain, which is a great advantage since their replacement can require cutting out ceilings in the bathrooms below which impacts those rooms during the renovation.
If you choose not to notify the jurisdiction of the proposed upgrades, there is a very real risk the local building department may shut your project down until all local regulations are followed. That affects the schedule, construction costs and your ROI. Building inspectors are known to drive around their communities looking for construction occurring. You may accidently pique their interest with the visibility of dumpsters and storage containers which could have them show up unexpected.
We recommend eliminating costly surprises by speaking directly with the building department and/or the municipality to better understand their needs and how long a permit may take to process. Your timeline and a municipality’s timeline do not always align, and in some cases for some permits, months may pass before one is issued. This is especially true if the local government begins questioning the scope of the project and starts an extensive review process. In other instances, a jurisdiction may immediately sign off on a permit because they’re relying on the expertise of your design team and architect.
Also, certain subcontractors may be able to directly process the necessary trade permit needed. Ask the municipality about their policy on this.
Lastly, confirm the building department’s inspection schedule. In smaller towns, inspections may be outsourced, or inspectors may only inspect on certain days of the week. You should also find out what their capacity is and the number of inspections they can accomplish in a single day. There’s a possibility the inspector may not be able to fulfill your needs on a specific day. This results in the contractor not being able to move forward on some aspects of the construction if some areas have not yet been inspected. Also, be sure to have all the required paperwork available in case questions arise and also get a copy of all final inspections and permit forms.
Following this plan will allow you to anticipate municipal challenges that may occur when starting a renovation. But be warned, if you choose not to, you may not be ‘permitted’ to finish the job.
Stephen Siegel is principal of H-CPM (Hospitality CPM) and a proven professional in the areas of design, engineering, contractor negotiation and project management for new construction and renovation projects. He earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Construction Management from the University of Florida.
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