In my experience as an independent home inspector, most of the improvements I came upon were done without permits or related municipal inspections. Most were done by qualified tradesmen, but some were done by homeowners with varying degrees of skill and technical knowledge. In some cases, I found the work completed without a permit was simply unsafe.
The process for obtaining the proper permit, whether it be building, plumbing, electrical, or other permit, can appear daunting to many homeowners and some tradesmen. In many cases, both homeowners and tradesmen feel they would rather attempt their improvements without taking out the necessary permits in order to save time and money. Application and permit fees vary depending on the scope of the project, and in Saanich for example, vary anywhere from $10 to $100+. A typical building permit fee in Saanich, for permits $1,000 or less in value is $50, and is based on the value of construction as determined by the Manager of Inspection Services, on top of the application fee (which varies from $30-$100). The time it takes to process an application can be approximately 3-4 weeks.
In undertaking work without the necessary permits, owners face many risks, some of which include: corrections for any unsafe or inadequate work, ‘stop work’ orders, removal of any unauthorized encroachment, cessation of any occupancy in contravention of a bylaw, and fines. In Saanich, a homeowner found in contravention of the bylaw will be given a specified timeframe to comply by the Manager of Inspection Services, and will be subject to any additional re-inspection fees, on top of a minimum fine of $150 for non-compliance as well as any fees required to correct the work. In most instances, where work has either been started or completed without a permit, it comes to the attention of the municipal office through neighbour complaints.
Not obtaining a proper work permit exposes an owner to the risk of possible law-suits later on. When selling a property on the Multiple Listing Service for example, Victoria owners are asked to complete a Property Disclosure Statement which asks “Are you aware of any additions or alterations made without a required permit and final inspection: eg: building, electrical, gas, etc?”. Sellers are legally responsible for their answers. Yet few really know what work requires a permit or whether their tradesmen even took out permits for work done. As a homeowner, even if you have hired a qualified professional, it is your responsibility to ensure that any tradesmen you have hired obtained the appropriate permits, and carried out the work in compliance with the bylaw. You may wish to include “all applicable permits and fees” in the specifications of the work quoted on and in the renovation contract, and request a copy of the permits before work commences, after work is completed and before you make final payment, just to be safe.
It is always a good idea to contact your own municipal office to confirm whether the work you are contemplating requires a permit, as each district varies slightly in what work does and does not require a permit. For instance, the District of Oak Bay requires a homeowner to get a permit when replacing any windows, however, the District of Central Saanich does not. In Saanich, for instance, a building permit is not required for maintenance work such as painting, re-siding or re-roofing with similar products, however, there are also 2 broad categories and many sub categories to consider:
a) are you replacing an item? If you replace an old toilet with a new more efficient one, you do not need a permit.
b) are you moving or adding an item? If you relocate a toilet, a permit is required.
Each district has their own building permit bylaw which is available for download from most district websites. The bylaw outlines the permit application process, what work does and does not require permit for that district, and includes any fees that are involved pertaining to the scale of work. The time and money it costs to obtain any necessary permits, far outweigh the possible time delays, potential costs and risks due to improper or unsafe work. For structures built before 1990, an environmental assessment may also be required before renovation or addition work can commence.
For some work, other jurisdictions have authority. For instance Saanich Municipality does not issue the following permits:
- Electrical Permits: contact the BC Safety Authority at 1-866-566-7233
- Gas Permits: contact the BC Safety Authority at 1-866-566-7233
- Septic Field Information: contact VIHA at 250-519-3401
- Potable Water Supply: contact VIHA at 250-519-3401