What Happens If I Built a Garage Without a Permit?

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Home garages may look simple, but they contain lots of electrical work.
Home garages may look simple, but they contain lots of electrical work. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The consequences of building a garage or any other home addition without a building permit can be severe, including the risk of shoddy construction. At the very least, homeowners may face fines that are many times the cost of a missing permit. It may be necessary to remove portions of home additions to prove the adequacy of structural, electrical and plumbing changes. Extra costs and legal headaches also occur when selling property that lacks permits for renovation work and approval of that work as meeting local building codes.

Protection of Homeowner

Most municipalities require permits for any changes to a house involving construction or demolition. Separate permits are also required for plumbing and electrical work. Yet contractors and do-it-yourself homeowners sometimes avoid purchasing permits to save money and time spent waiting for a permit to be approved. One major problem that can arise from unpermitted construction is an insurance company's refusal to cover damage to the unpermitted portion of the house.

Permits protect the homeowner and any future occupants from construction shortcuts and poor materials. They result in building inspections aimed at verifying the quality and safety of the construction as well as compliance with zoning laws and local building codes. Contractors who say building permits aren't necessary are raising a red flag indicating that they may not be trustworthy.

Fines

Penalties for construction of a garage or other additions without a building permit vary from one local government to another. The Bankrate website says that if a municipality becomes aware of unpermitted work, it may charge the homeowner fines that are from three to 10 times the cost of the permit that should have been obtained before construction.

Demolition

Garages often seem like simple additions, but they house important electrical and plumbing elements as well as storage and workshop areas. Inspections during construction can avert extra costs of ripping out and redoing inadequate work. When municipalities become aware of any construction or major improvements completed without a permit, they are likely to require post-construction inspections. These reviews may necessitate tearing out parts of the new construction so an inspector can judge the underlying quality. If the the work isn't up to code, it will need to be repaired. This can greatly increase the price of a garage, reducing its value as a low-cost property improvement.

The Bankrate website notes that in cases where homeowners are uncertain whether their contractors purchased the required permits, it is possible to track the information by contacting the local building department.

Resale and Rental Problems

Many states require sellers to share information with buyers about any structural, electrical or plumbing changes to a home and whether the work was done with permits. If not, buyers may make their purchase contingent upon the seller obtaining the necessary permits and inspections. Or they may accept the responsibility themselves if the seller provides a large enough discount on the purchase price. Owners who intend to rent out their house should also be aware that it may be illegal to do so if any portion of the property -- even a garage -- was built without permits.

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