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Do I need a permit for that?

One of the inevitable and often desirable aspects of home ownership is home improvement or renovation. Whether you hire a contractor or decide to do it yourself, you should know which projects require a permit so that you don’t run into trouble after you’ve already invested time or money. The standard for when a permit is required varies by municipality but here in St. Petersburg, you can find the answer on their website at www.stpete.org

“Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by the Florida Building Code (FBC), or to cause any such work to be done, shall file an application and obtain the required permit or certificate.”  –  City of St. Petersburg Planning & Economic Development Department

 In St. Petersburg, the city’s website has a very comprehensive section on permitting and home construction that provides not only applications, codes and guidelines but an entire project planning packet with checklists to insure that you have everything in order and compliant with our current codes and ordinances. Even when you hire a contractor to do the project, you should familiarize yourself with this process and follow up with your contractor to make sure that everything is handled appropriately because ultimately, you are responsible if the permit isn’t in place and properly closed when the project is complete. 

Obtaining a permit is important not just for your own safety and enjoyment of home improvements but as a record of value added to the home. Homeowners who do not think about permits until it is time to sell their home often face a costly process that might involve obtaining a retroactive permit or worse, being required to remove the “improvement.” We once represented a seller who had constructed a tiki bar on their property and when they tried to sell, learned that the permit had not been closed. It was several years after the project was complete and the contractor they had hired had passed away. Also  in the time since construction, new codes had been introduced that made the structure out of compliance and so the structure had to be torn down. Not only did they not have this wonderful feature that they had paid to construct, they now had to pay to have it removed.

Most standard real estate contracts will require the seller of a property to close all open permits prior to closing. This process may take days or even weeks to resolve so if you are planning to list your home, it’s always good to check your home’s permit history. In St. Petersburg, you can do that by visiting the city’s website here: Property Cards Not every city has them available online but they can often be obtained from the building department simply by calling  and giving a fax number or e-mail address.

Owners often get a copy of the building permit from their contractor, but often neglect to get proof of the permit being properly closed. Be sure you get evidence of the final approved inspection and permit closing before you make your final payment to the contractor.  If you get a permit for work that you plan to do, which you don’t do, you should also check to be sure that permit is closed.

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