NEXUS PROPERTY MANAGEMENT 101: BUILDING PERMITS
Nexus Property Management® opened its doors over 10 years ago and has managed 1000s of properties for 100s of clients over the years. In an effort to help break down barriers to real estate investment for all parties, professional and D-I-Y alike, we’ll often answer those questions publicly. One such question we’ve been hearing more and more recently (as people began thawing out from the Covid restrictions) is whether or not building permits are necessary for certain maintenance jobs.
First of all, it’s important to state that permits are attained at the municipal level, so there’s going to be some variance. Be sure to check with your city or town as all pertinent information should be listed online. That being said, the regulations are typically pretty similar within states and regions of the country.
To borrow the language from the municipality that governs our corporate headquarters, “ordinary repairs to buildings and structures may be made without application or notice to the building official”...but there are specific instances when a permit is necessary.
1. INSTALLATION OF SIDING
If you’re replacing a couple sections that are loose there’s no need for a permit. The theme throughout is that maintenance of what you’ve got is typically fine without legal notice. However, if you’re going to be wrapping the property and upgrading the quality of the exterior you’re certainly going to need that permit.
2. THE CUTTING AWAY OF ANY WALL, PARTITION, OR PORTION OF THE WALL
3. THE REMOVAL OR CUTTING AWAY OF ANY STRUCTURAL BEAM OR BEAMING SUPPORT
These are less about adding value to your home and most certainly all about ensuring safety. Open floor layouts have become more and more popular in the last decade and while opening your kitchen might really tie your space together, the town or city needs to make sure you’re not messing with anything that’s load bearing.
4. THE REMOVAL OR CHANGE OF ANY REQUIRED MEANS OF EGRESS
5. REARRANGEMENT OF PARTS OF A STRUCTURE AFFECTING THE EXITWAY REQUIREMENTS
These cover a couple typical adjustments we’ve seen. Occasionally, especially with older buildings, which are extremely abundant in New England and older mill cities, people want to resize or reroute stairs for the sake of adding closet space. Back when everyone walked to the factory down the road, there wasn’t much need for storage. Similarly, many multi-family buildings have a front and rear entrance and property owners might want to seal one off for one reason or another. This needs to be approved via inspection and permit.
6. ALTERATION OF, REPLACEMENT, OR RELOCATION OF ANY STANDARD PIPE, WATER SUPPLY, SEWER, DRAINAGE, DRAIN LEADER, GAS, SOIL, WASTE, VENT OR SIMILAR PIPING
There’s likely a little wiggle room with leaders if they’re simply routing rainwater away from a dwelling, or replacing old cast iron with PVP, but beyond that, pipe alterations need municipal approval. Recently we saw a vertical two-unit in Providence where the first floor apartment was being fully painted and brought to rent-ready status, but the owners didn’t want to mess with the necessary permit and labor for an awkward pipe that ran from the upstairs unit’s bathroom down along the wall of their main hallway.
7. ELECTRIC WIRING
Makes sense. Anything having to do with electricity requires permitting in most municipalities…including (believe it or not) changing electrical outlets.
8. MECHANICAL OR OTHER WORK THAT AFFECTS PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY OR WELFARE
Like the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Bill of Rights, this is the catch-all item. “All work not classified as ordinary repair shall comply with the rules and regulations or ordinances of the municipality as to the procurement of a permit for these repairs.”
In other words, just because we didn’t mention it specifically doesn’t mean you don’t need a permit. If it affects safety, health, or the general well-being of others, you need a permit.
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As was just mentioned above, and touched on in some of the other items, the main reason is safety. There needs to be oversight to ensure buildings are safe and meet applicable zoning codes. Many a creative handyman have come up with a remedy that seemed genius at first, and maybe for a while, but in time cut corners lead to big problems.
So undoubtedly, health and safety are legitimate reasons for necessitating permits. That being said, there’s no doubt that the financial side of it is a factor as well. The more permits you need to file for, the more money your town can collect in charges. They might be just $50 or $100 each, but they add up over time and across an entire city. The city of Worcester, Massachusetts even just added a $50 Administrative Fee to any permits applied for over the counter (a.k.a. “not paperless”). That city’s permits have a minimum cost of $100 each and a basic $12 per $1,000 of construction costs for larger projects. The point being, there’s money to be made for cities and towns. (Worcester’s Schedule of Fees)
Additionally, it’s also important for them to know about the improvements you’ve made to your property…for taxation purposes. If you’ve re-sided your 4-unit and opened up your floor plan, you’ve added value…and the city or town want to make sure they can get their cut. There’s certainly plenty of benefit for them to keep track of your upgrades.
CONCLUSION: NEXT STEPS
Permitting and following municipal guidelines is just part of the real estate investment game. There are rules we all need to play by and being familiar with them or having a trusted resource to turn to gives you a leg up. It’s Nexus’ belief that the more people we can help play this game, the better off the real estate market will be for all. There are so many advantages to investing in real estate. Contact our team to learn more about them .
Nexus Property Management® also offers franchise opportunities from coast-to-coast. We are currently the largest residential property manager in Southern New England and continue to grow throughout the region. Learn more about joining our team!
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Mick Lefort is the Vice President of Operations for Nexus Property Management®. A National Property Management Franchise that manages all types of rental property from single family homes or condos to large apartment buildings and complexes.
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