Getting a building permit might sound like a lot of work, but the process is only in place to ensure the safety of your structure and to make sure that everything that is put up is up to code. However, does the same apply to simple structures like garages?
You definitely need a permit to build a garage. Permits are required when building a new structure, when making modifications to existing structures, and when significantly changing building components. Building a garage falls into these categories, so a permit is required before the project can start. If you do not get a permit for the construction, you risk getting fined, spending more money bringing your property up to code later on, or decreasing the value of your home because appraisers do not include unpermitted structures in the appraisal. Plus, if you ever want to sell your home, people may not want to buy it if you cannot show a permit for every structure.
Getting a building permit is not as hard as most people think. If you have been thinking about building a garage, here is everything you need to know about garage permits.
How Much is a Building Permit for a Garage?
In general, the cost of building permits depends on a number of things. Top of the list are the location and size of the project. The same applies for garages. The more extensive your garage, the more expensive the permit will be. Other factors that will determine the final cost of your permit include:
- The age of the property
- Inspection fees
- The number of permits required
- The total value of the work performed on the garage
Since so many factors come into play, the total cost of the permit will always vary from project to project. However, on average, they can cost anywhere from $1200 to $1500 depending on where you live, although more realistically they usually cost anywhere between $400 to $1500 depending on the size of the project. Small counties can charge as little as $100 while big city permits can cost thousands of dollars.
Depending on your location, it is possible to get a rough estimate of how much the permit will cost from a number of websites. Your contractor will also be able to help you get a rough estimate of how much you are looking at based on the project’s complexity and parameters. You can also call your local planning authorities and ask what their rates are.
Although most people are usually scared to call, most of these departments and their personnel are usually very happy to help. Their job is to ensure their safety, so if you call with questions regarding making your structure up to code, that’s a good thing.
If you are going to be working with a contractor, it is important to bring this subject up very early on in your conversations. Discuss obtaining the building permits and what it will cost so you can budget for it appropriately. Also, some contractors will be happy to obtain the permits for you while others let you take care of everything on your own.
So to avoid any potential problems, make sure to bring it up during the planning stage of the project. If not for anything else do it so you know who is responsible for getting the permits.
General Garage Building Requirements
Although the requirements vary from place to place, most local building departments only need basic plans from you before they can issue a garage building permit. These drawings, however, have to meet their standards, which is why they may ask you to make a few revisions once you submit them.
If you want your garage to pass all the inspections, you need to meet the following general building requirements:
- It should not occupy more than 1400 square feet
- It should not project past the front yard set back of the main building
- It should not be constructed before the main building is complete or under construction
- It should have a setback of 3 feet from the overhang to the property line on both the side yard and the rear yard
- It should be separated from the main building by no less than 3 feet
- It must meet all code and construction requirements
- It must meet all State and National Electrical Code guidelines
- It cannot be more than 18 feet high
- It must meet the same setbacks, side yards, and rear yard guidelines as the main building
- It cannot be more than 15 feet high
- It must be separated from the main house by a 3/4-hour fire resistive wall and a 20-minute fire rated door and frame
- It must meet all code and construction requirements
- It must meet all State and National Electrical Code guidelines
Once you meet all the above requirements, here is how to break down your budget for a full garage construction:
- Floor, framing, drywall- 20% of the budget
- Electrical and plumbing- 10-20% of the budget
- Materials, installation, and labor- 30-70% of the budget
- Miscellaneous, including permits and unexpected problems- 5- 10% of the budget
How to Get a Garage Building Permit?
The process of getting a permit for your garage is pretty straightforward. It is even easier if you have a contractor. Your contractor will likely have a very good understanding of the approval processes and regulations of your area.
They will know the ins and outs of local building permits, meaning you will have to worry less and do a lot less work. It will also be the contractor’s responsibility to ensure that the garage is up to code, so you can rest easy knowing that your garage will meet all government standards.
If you opt to do everything yourself without a contractor, you will have to get the permit yourself. These are the steps you will have to follow:
- Draw up your plans. This is best done by a professional, such as an architect or a qualified contractor. You can also buy plans online or purchase some from building permit companies. However, be warned that some local authorities do not accept drawings downloaded from the internet. They need to have been worked on by a professional registered to work within their jurisdiction. So keep that in mind.
- Submit your plans to your local building permit office. Most jurisdictions have downloadable application forms on their sites that you will have to download, print, fill out, then submit physically. Some require you to present yourself in person and complete the entire process physically, while others conduct all their business entirely online from start to finish and you won’t even have to go to the permit office.
- After submitting your drawings, wait for the permit to be processed. If the permit office comes back with revisions on the plan, do them and resubmit the revised plans. However, if everything is in order, the amount of time it takes to get the permit will largely depend on the size of the project. Bigger projects can take several weeks while smaller projects usually take one or two weeks.
- Once the plans have been approved, the permit office will prepare them for permit issuance. This is where they verify that all the contractors are licensed, all forms have been filled correctly, and all fees have been paid. No input from you is needed at this stage. When everything is in order, you will be notified that your permit is ready for collection.
- The documents you get from your local permit office are the building permit, the permit card, and a set of approved plans. When you receive the permit, set up inspection dates with your local building permit inspectors. You will need to leave your permit number, your project address, the type of inspection, and let them know whether or not it is a reinspection. If the construction is in your back yard, you will need to give permission for them to access the space. Ensure that no animals are in the backyard and that an adult is present on your property when the inspectors come.
The entire construction process of your garage will have to be regularly inspected to make sure that what you end up constructing is up to code. As has been mentioned, you will have to make arrangements for the inspection to be done. Your garage must be inspected in each of the following stages:
- Foundation, concrete footing and piers
- Final inspection
Although these are the basic general inspection stages, they often vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. So be sure to ask the official what inspections will be required.
Is Living in a Garage Illegal?
Sometimes, when you are pressed for space, your garage can feel like wasted space that you can easily put to good use. Say you need an extra bedroom or office, or you want to rent out that space to make some extra money. Or perhaps all that your garage space has become good for is storing old junk you will never use.
So why not repurpose it and make it useful again? Although this sounds like a great idea, in reality, the conversion and illegal use of garages is an offence.
Most garage spaces are not designed for human habitation as they are. In fact, many of them get too hot during hot days and too cold during cold ones. It will take a lot of work to turn such a space into a habitable room. This is the main reason why it is illegal to live in a garage.
This is something that many homeowners are genuinely unaware of. Most people assume that since they own the property, they can do whatever they want with it. Besides, permits are only required when building a new structure, when making modifications to existing structures, and when significantly changing building components, right?
Garage conversions usually only involve moving around some pieces of furniture and not adding to the overall square footage of the house, so where is the harm?
Well, most states in the US have laws concerning illegal garage conversions. If you do not apply for the proper permits and licenses, you risk getting penalized. You can get heavily cited for not following the proper procedure and getting the required permits before converting your garage space.
So what if you still really want to convert that garage? Well, if you go ahead and do it without reaching out to the authorities, in some states, you may be required to return the garage to its original state once you are discovered. This can sometimes cost thousands of dollars. The best way to do it is to get your conversion process legalized.
What if you have already converted the garage space illegally? What if there is already someone living in there and getting them out is completely out of the question? This often happens for example when you rely on the space for your livelihood (in the form of rental income) or when a relative has made it their primary home.
Well, the good news is that you can still get a permit for it. You will need to try and get it legalized by petitioning to keep the unpermitted unit. Because otherwise you risk forfeiting rent or being forced to pay the move-out fees of the tenant living in the space. On top of that, you may have to pay some additional fines to the authorities.
It is a good idea here to hire a real estate attorney to argue on your behalf. They will verify all your legal options and help you gather information on building codes and zoning regulations affecting your building. They will also analyze the characteristics, limitations and potentials of your property along with giving you the legal profile of your building.
If you are successful, you will still have to meet all zoning regulations, including parking setback, height, and lot size requirements.
Sometimes, you may not be successful because the property is already in a state that limits the amount of change that can legally be done to the garage. In such situations, you will have to return the garage to its original state and pay some fines.
What Happens If I Built a Garage Without a Permit?
The consequences of building a garage without a permit vary. At the lower end of the spectrum, you may have to pay a fine that is worth several times what you would have paid for a permit. In extreme cases, you may be forced to tear everything down and return the garage to its original state and pay a fine on top of that.
If the local permit authorities find out, they may stop the entire project and fine you if construction is still in progress. If they happen to drive by or if someone reports it after the garage is already finished, you may be forced to bring it down, get fined and have to pay some additional fees.
Other headaches also often present themselves when you are trying to sell the house. If you cannot show a permit when you want to sell your house, you may drive potential buyers away. No one wants to buy a home with an illegal structure within it, so people will likely not want to buy it unless you get the permit. And getting a permit after initially trying to avoid the process can be cause for a nasty headache.
Plus, building without a permit brings down the value of your property. Appraisers do not include unpermitted structures in their appraisals, so the time and money you spent putting up the garage will be all for naught.
If you manage to sell the house, you may face legal issues from the people you sold your property to. Generally, you will need to do a lot of additional work to bring your garage up to code if it isn’t.
Additionally, insurance may refuse to cover damages to the unpermitted portions of the house. So if you are thinking of saving some money by not getting a permit, it may only end up costing you a lot more than you bargained for.
Permits are required for a good reason. They are designed to ensure your safety, both during and after the construction of the garage. They will protect you from construction shortcuts, contractors who want to use substandard materials, and general shoddy construction practices.
The inspectors who come in are also there to ensure that you get nothing but the highest quality and safest structure that is in compliance with zoning regulations and building laws.
So the next time a contractor says that a garage building permit is not necessary, it should raise a lot of red flags for you.