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Removing the Excuses for Not Getting a Permit

Let’s get this straight. There are many reasons why you need a permit for your project.

For most homeowners, the idea of getting a permit conjures up emotions such as fear and loathing.

We invited John Earhart, plan review manager with the City of Tempe, and Lisa Hertzog, plan review coordinator from the City of Phoenix, to explain the permit process. Learning more about the process should make it feel less daunting.

Reasons why you need a permit.

The primary reason is safety. John and Lisa agree that the public’s health, safety, and welfare are paramount.

John tells us that building codes represent “minimum” standards of construction. They are not the draconian measures you might think they are.

When you obtain a permit, a qualified building inspector will visit the property to ensure the work done by you or a contractor was done correctly, and the safety standards have been met. That can be reassuring to any homeowner.

Also, when selling your home and where work was permitted, the sale moves along much more easily.

The downside of not getting a permit.

The biggest downside is ending up with substandard work that might jeopardize you or your family.

During construction, if someone gets nosy, finds out you did not pull a permit, reports your project to the city, and an inspector sees work being done, the work will be stopped, and you could be fined. This is an unnecessary addition to anyone’s construction budget and schedule, never mind the headache.

Even if you “get away with it,” unpermitted work will likely be exposed through an inspection when you sell your house.

“The owners of the first house my husband and I bought enclosed the patio to make a dining room. It was a cute room,” says Susan Stein Kregar, a Rosie on the House staffer. “When we sold the house eight years later, we found the addition was not permitted. That problem decreased the square footage the county would allow us to include in the listing, even though it was included when we bought the house. We also found that the construction was not to code. We didn’t make a dime on the sale, and it took nearly a year to sell the house.”

Note that they bought and sold their house more that 15 years before joining Rosie on the House.

“I sure wish we knew Rosie then!” she exclaims.

With safety being the primary goal of the permitting process, not getting a permit can cause other problems that can impact you financially.

Unpermitted work can affect you even if you were not a part of it. Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel. has had several clients wanting to remodel the home they have lived in for a long time. When they look at the possible project, sometimes they notice work that does not meet code requirements. The homeowner usually tells them, “We bought it this way,” and they did. The new work they want to do will often require a permit. Getting that permit may entail first obtaining a permit for the work done by previous owners.

John and Lisa tell us there is no “grandfathering” in these cases. The current owner is responsible for obtaining a permit for the previous work. They also note that most jurisdictions will not impose fines on the new homeowners.

Types of projects that require a permit.

John says that in general, if you are replacing a part of your home, you may not need a permit. If you replace a toilet and are not relocating it, you don’t need a permit. If you replace a water heater or other major components, in most jurisdictions, you will. Lisa and John strongly recommend contacting your local building department before undertaking any project to determine if permitting is required.

Don’t be afraid to call!

In most of Arizona, a local building department issues permits for all construction-related work. The folks who work there truly want to help you. Developing a mission of service to the community is the common goal. Contrary to the misguided notion held by some, these people do not want to be adversarial. In Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel’s experience, they have found this to be consistent across jurisdictions.

Lisa offered great insight regarding the effort most communities go through to streamline the permitting process. The goal is to make it easier, faster, and less expensive for homeowners to do the right thing.

During this Saturday’s show, we will talk about the recent experience Jennifer and Rosie had when obtaining a permit for a charging station in their home.

Along with constantly trying to improve service, occasionally departments will run into a snag and have to change a procedure to improve. It doesn’t happen often, as most systems are tested before they are made operational.

Courtesy inspections.

If you are looking to buy an existing home, or you are contemplating a remodeling project, most jurisdictions across Arizona have a process where an inspector will come out, look at a property or project, and let you know if it meets the code. There is often a nominal fee of around $150 (as of December 2023).

Further research will be needed to determine whether the work performed on an existing home was permitted.

With all the house flipping done between 2009 and 2014, this service could save you a lot of heartache and dollars.

Common excuses that don’t work.

There are some common misnomers about permits. These are our favorites for all the wrong reasons.

“I am the homeowner and am doing the work myself. I don’t need a permit.”

“I bought it this way.” (See Susan’s story.)

“The work was not structural.’’

“My buddy said I didn’t need one.”

The inspectors have heard them all and then some!

Your local building department wants to help you. Making a call before you build, or buy is in your best interest.

The Arizona Building Officials website is a great resource to help you get started. This tool will not only help you find your local building department, but it will also include information about typical projects that do not require permits.

For more helpful information, tune in this Saturday as John and Lisa join us to talk about permits. We encourage you to call in with your questions!



There are many reasons why you need a permit for your project. For some, the idea of getting one conjures up emotional fear. But permits are designed to protect your project. We invited John Earhart, plan review manager with the City of Tempe, and Lisa Hertzog, plan review coordinator from the City of Phoenix, to explain the permit process. Even some projects that don’t require a permit.

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