Why Homeowners Don’t Get Building Permits

Most of our projects involve building permits. We’ve always built with permits, and we encourage homeowners to get a permit if one is required.  But every year, we meet homeowners who choose not to get a building permit for their project, for various reasons. Here are the common reasons why homeowners don’t get permits, and solutions dealing with some of the reasons and issues.


Obtaining a building permit costs money. There’s the cost of design, the cost of attending the municipal office, and the cost of the building permit. Unless the homeowner has an understanding of the building code, they will need to hire a licensed designer to complete the drawings. Design costs usually start at $1,000 for small projects, which can be a significant percentage of the project budget if the construction cost is $5,000 or $10,000.


Obtaining a building permit adds time to a construction project. First, it will add time before construction starts. Drawings must be completed, a permit application submitted, and the application reviewed by the municipality. Several years ago, changes were implemented that required municipalities to respond to applications within two weeks. Over time, these timeframes have become extended, and some municipalities are telling applicants not to expect a response for four to six weeks. Some municipalities, such as Toronto, have implemented a fast track process for minor projects, to have these approved in less than two weeks. Other municipalities do not have a fast track process, and even the most minor project will take at least two weeks for review and approval.

Secondly, a building permit adds time to the construction project. The building inspection must be arranged, and the building inspector must attend the site and approve stages of work, before the work progresses to the next stage.

The solution is to start the planning process early, and to allow sufficient time to complete design and obtain the building permit.

Who will design?

Most homeowners don’t know who to turn to when they need to complete design for a renovation project. They may have already chosen their contractor, but they don’t know a designer or architect. And often the contractor doesn’t have any contacts in the design industry, so they can’t help either.

The solution is to choose a design build company, who can take care of the entire process from design through to construction.

Unreasonable Government Expectations

Recently, we completed a basement bathroom renovation that involved relocating bathroom fixtures. The homeowner applied for a plumbing permit, and was told that in addition to the basement plan showing the revised bathroom layout, a floor plan of the main floor would also have to be submitted. Another project required conservation authority approval, even though there was only interior work on the project.

This is an items politicians and governments should work to improve.  Figure out the minimum information required, and don’t ask for additional information or approvals that clearly don’t add any value to homeowners or society.

Get the Permit

Beyond the fact that it’s the law, there is a clear benefit to homeowners obtaining a building permit. A building permit comes with inspections by a qualified building inspector, and it weeds out unqualified contractors who are not familiar with building codes. We’ve written more about why you should get a building permit here.

We strongly encourage all homeowners to get a building permit when it is required. But we also understand why some homeowners choose not to get a building permit.