The San Diego Homeowner’s Guide to Understanding Remodeling Permits

Remodeling permits can be a huge pain in the butt, but they are also very important for safety, insurance, and checks & balances.


Let us just get this out of the way: building and construction permits, not to mention the inspectors who enforce them, can be a huge pain in the butt for homeowners and remodeling contractors alike. We have to deal with permitting and planning departments all the time, and as with any other bureaucratic process involving getting permission from the government to do something, the permit process is rarely smooth or enjoyable at all.


Reasons People Don’t Get Permits

It’s not surprising that many homeowners (studies have shown over 75%) never get a permit to build or remodel their home nor do they require their contractors to pull permits. Here are the top five reasons why:


1. Permits are Not Necessary

It may seem like permits are required for every home project, including setting up a plastic kiddie pool in the backyard. The truth is, however, that permits aren’t required for many different kinds of remodeling projects, including certain kitchen and bathroom remodels that encompass a lengthy scope of work.

  • For instance, if you are removing your kitchen countertops, cabinets, and flooring, but are, for the most part, keeping your same kitchen layout, your project may not require a permit.
  • If the plumbing, electrical, or drywall is not being disturbed, and there is no new framing, in most municipalities there is nothing to inspect.

Items like a cabinet and countertop installation, painting, flooring install, and other cosmetic changes do not show up on most inspection cards.


2. Expense

Yes, permits cost money. There is a fee associated with pulling even a minor permit for an interior remodeling project. The fees increase depending on the scope of the project and the potential inspections needed.

  • A permit for a room addition, for instance, will be much more expensive than a plumbing, electrical and drywall permit for a bathroom remodel.

For those looking to save money on an expensive remodel, skipping the permit process and the associated costs can be very tempting.


3. Delays

Major remodels requiring architectural and engineering review by your municipality will definitely take some time to get approved. On top of that, certain trades and phases of construction will need to be inspected before the project can continue.


These delays are usually less noticeable on a larger project like a room addition, but when your kitchen or bathroom is out of commission and time is lost due to waiting on an inspector to show up, it can put a dent in the projected completion time.


4. Inspectors

There are definitely some good inspectors around who care about not just their job, but also the taxpaying homeowner who is helping to cover their salary. Good inspectors are concerned for safety and also for the convenience of the homeowner who is living in a house under construction.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of the other kind of inspectors, too. The kind who like to boss people around and take pleasure in thinking up new and inventive ways of inconveniencing contractors and homeowners alike.


Some of the worst inspectors don’t really know their job, yet can get away with throwing around unrealistic requirements because, well – they are the inspector, so there! One bad round with a competence-challenged inspector will make any homeowner think twice before pulling a new permit.


5. Privacy

In America, many homeowners feel that their home is their castle. They don’t want anybody poking around and telling them what to do with that castle, much less some inspector who could reject a request.


With so many legitimate reasons to abhor the permit process, is there any reason to justify the extra cost, time, and possible rejection pulling a permit entails (besides that pesky legality issue)? Actually, yes. 


Reasons You Should Get Permits

Let’s talk about why you or your contractor should pull all the necessary permits for your San Diego kitchen or bath remodel. Really, there’s one main reason… It’s the Law!


1. Legality

We can’t speak for every city, county, or municipality, but in our experience, most local building codes require permits for basic remodeling work to be done. From minor electrical rewiring to replacing a water heater, many of the things that dads do on the weekends should, in fact, be permitted to be in compliance with the law.


Penalties for not permitting a remodeling project in San Diego can range from fines to removing all unpermitted work done to the structure.


2. Safety & Insurance

One reason for permitting has to do with a combination of safety and insurance coverage. If your inspector or inspectors are good at their job, they may catch some code or safety violations early enough in your project so that they can be remedied without too much expense or delay.


Items like electrical and plumbing should be done so they completely conform to the local building code. In fact, electrical and plumbing work is considered serious enough that many homeowner insurance policies will not cover losses that are caused by un-permitted work.


3. Checks & Balances

Also, consider your permit as a type of checks and balances on your San Diego-based remodel contractor. Once the permits are pulled, the contractor knows that his or her work will be inspected.


Even though every inspector might not be the best or most experienced, the contractor usually doesn’t have any way of knowing which inspector will be assigned to the project on any given day. Therefore, the contractor will at least strive to perform work so that it will pass the keen eye of a good inspector.

Overall, playing by the rules usually works out better than taking shortcuts. Sure, you might get away with it most of the time, but when you get caught, the punishment won’t be worth the potential benefit of not permitting. Can you imagine spending $50,000 or more on a kitchen remodel in the San Diego area only to have a big chunk of the work torn down because it wasn’t permitted?

Our advice: Pull your permits, start your remodel off on the right foot, and enjoy the resulting peace of mind!