Nicholas Tsontakis| DwellBoldy
Imagine being in the middle of your project, all trades scheduled, and all running smoothly until your friendly neighborhood inspector drops in, notices you moved a sink from the wall to an island and issues a stop work order. All trades get put on hold and go to other jobs, while you scramble to get a building permit so your project can continue. This can completely derail a project: missed deadlines, no longer accurate cost projections, and a serious migraine! Getting a permit does not need to be a stressful event, it just needs to be part of the plan. An extra interest payment for the sake of tearing down a wall that completely changes a space can be well worth the time and money. But how do you know when you need a permit?
To understand this best, it helps to know why permits exist in the first place. Cities issue permits so that they can inspect projects to verify building has been done according to city-adopted building codes. Building codes were written and introduced to the US for the sake of health and safety, namely fire safety. While commercial buildings, including multi-family, will always require a permit, single-family construction, specifically remodeling, does have a little gray area when it is required. The permitting process typically begins with a plan review, where a plan reviewer first checks plans to verify that those plans meet the codes that the city enforces by way of inspections during construction.
Every municipality is different (yes, annoying), but there are commonalities about when a permit is required. The general rule is if you are changing anything structural, mechanical (HVAC/exhaust systems), electrical, or plumbing, you need to get a permit. However, if you are just replacing things for like things in the same location (e.g. toilet for toilet or washer for washer where there was one before), you will most likely not require a permit. A useful way to think of this is if you are adding or moving something substantial, like a wall, or gas line, you probably need a permit. Is getting a permit a bad thing?
A building permit is not bad but it usually implies a longer path to a finished project. The first step in getting a permit is creating documents to submit for plan review with the City. These documents can sometimes be as unsophisticated as a hand sketch on a regular sheet of paper to a full set of architectural, structural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical drawings and calculations. For a fix and flip, it is usually somewhere in between those two – maybe you want to remove a bearing wall and replace it with a beam – this usually implies adding two posts at the end of the beam that bears on a square concrete footing below. This will require an as-built plan, a proposed plan, and structural calculations for the size of the beam, post, and footing as well as connections between the three. Other times, a quick gas permit can be pulled if you want to add an exterior firepit, you would just have to size the pipe and call out an approved material to make sure delivery of gas works for the appliance. Since building codes were written in the name of safety, building permits, and the ensuing inspections help make sure you are doing work in a way that protects the health and safety of the general public and whoever will inhabit the house next, is that so bad?
Depending on the scope of work, different permits will be issued. The best way to know if you need a permit is to ask someone at the municipality’s building safety department. When calling, describe the type of work and ALWAYS ask if they offer an “over-the-counter” service, “over-the-counter” implies that you walk in with your set of plans, review with someone at the desk (counter), and you leave with the building permit. Many cities, like Scottsdale, no longer offer an “over-the-counter” service since COVID, but they do offer something called a “Small Scope Residential” permit that has significantly faster turn-around times than a permit for a new home or major addition. Many cities, like Phoenix, Gilbert, and Glendale are “by appointment only.” Below is a list of some cities in Maricopa County with email addresses and phone numbers to ask if your project needs a permit:
Scottsdale: 480-312-3111, OneStopShopStaff@Scottsdaleaz.gov
Paradise Valley: 480-348-3692, email@example.com (Russ Louman)
Fountain Hills: (480) 816-5177, firstname.lastname@example.org (Marilyn Grudier)
Phoenix: (602) 262-7811, email@example.com
Tempe: (480) 350-4311, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mesa: (480) 644-4273, email@example.com
Chandler: 480-782-3074, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilbert: (480) 503-6700, email@example.com
Glendale: 623-930-2800, firstname.lastname@example.org (Djordje Pavlovic)
Peoria: (623) 773-7225, email@example.com
As you plan your next fix and flip this month, it is prudent to check with your local jurisdiction to see if your budget and schedule should accommodate the time it takes to acquire a building permit. This way you can accurately forecast the cost of your rehab without a surprise stop work order from your local inspector.