Building a Deck Without a Permit [Risks and Consequences]

Any homeowner, whether the home is new or old, has probably come across this dilemma. You might have purchased a new home with no deck, or you have an older house that needs a rotting deck ripped out and rebuilt. With that comes the question about deck permits. What are the risks of building a deck without a permit?

Building deck without a permit may result in removing it, possible penalties and back property taxes. A building permit is required if the deck is attached to the house or is 30 inches above grade. If the deck is freestanding, is 30 or less in height and less than 200 square feet a permit is not required.

Being an avid DIYer and homeowner I talk to all my friend’s family and neighbors about these exact topics. It is amazing to hear about different scenarios regarding decks in all shapes and sizes and if permits should be pulled or not.

Depending on what state and region you live in there might be slight differences in the rules and bylaws for Building Construction. The bylaws might affect how big of a deck you can build and how close to a property line, among other factors. We will explore different scenarios below.

Do you Need a Permit to Build a Deck?

Building a Deck Without a Permit
Let’s get right into it. Yes, you will be required to obtain a deck permit. There are two main building codes to follow that make this easy to understand, regardless of what state you live.

  • If you are building a deck that will be attached to your home or other buildings on your property, then you will need a permit.
  • If the deck is not being attached to anything and is 30 inches or higher it will also require a permit.

Did you know that most permits for decks that are of a basic build can be issued while you wait? Assuming you have done your homework beforehand and know that you have to bring in a drawing of your plan to be reviewed.

What information is Required When Applying for a Deck Permit?

Depending on what the code is in your city and state will determine the exact requirements. However, some pieces of information will always be required when applying for a deck permit.

You will need to provide a detailed drawing of your proposed deck and where it attaches to your home. If you can provide scale measurements of your yard that will help too as the reviewer will want to see where property lines are.

Length, width and height of the deck will be required as well as where you are placing your beam(s). Other information potentially needed are:

  • The proposed joist thickness. (2×6, 2×8, etc)
  • The spacing of joists.
  • Where stairs will be located and how wide.
  • Guardrail height.
  • A material list could be requested.
  • What type of footing will be used? Concrete piles, screw piles, deck blocks with posts. These requirements are usually determined by the height of the deck and possibly the development if it is a new home.

If your plans meet certain building codes as well as zoning bylaws and structural requirements it should pass. This means you will be issued a permit. The permit will most likely cost you some money.

Depending on how busy the city or town office is they might ask you to leave the plans with them to be reviewed later. This can take anywhere from a day to weeks.

The best way will be to call ahead and schedule an appointment with a building official. That way you can better plan when to get the materials and to have the deck footings built. I wouldn’t start them though until you have a permit in hand.

What Happens if You Build a Deck Without a Permit?

This happens all the time! People building decks with total disregard for any building codes they may be violating. The problem with this is, it’s not just codes they are bypassing.

If you build a deck without a permit you are putting yourself and others in danger as the deck might have been built incorrectly. If a deck were to fall with people on it, someone could get seriously injured.

One of the positive things about following protocol and getting a permit is that an inspector will come out to your site and inspect the construction. The inspector will identify if there is a safety risk and how to go about fixing it.

What if you didn’t use joist hangers and the joists pulled away from the ledger board? As before mentioned, someone could get injured. The inspector should catch issues like this. Some other issues you may run into include:

  • You could be ordered to tear down the deck. Just think of all the money and time spent constructing a deck only to have to tear it down because it doesn’t meet code and is a safety risk.
  • Let’s say you did build it correctly but didn’t get a permit. When the city or town finds out when the deck was built they could potentially go after back taxes for property tax. I would rather pay my taxes as they come up each month rather than find out I owe back taxes for 1 or 2 years because I didn’t get a permit.
  • It’s quite possible you could be fined.
  • If something were to happen and your insurance company had to be involved the insurance company wouldn’t cover you. Why? Because you didn’t get a permit. So if you go back to the scenario of someone getting seriously injured it’s not just bad that someone got hurt, now you could be sued for (and have to pay) hospital bills.
  • When it is time to sell your home it could be revealed there was never a permit processed for the deck. This could hurt you at the bargaining table financially as well as it might hold up the sale of your home.

Can I Get a Retroactive Deck Permit?

You can’t get a retroactive deck permit now. If you find yourself in a situation where you have a deck built without a permit issued and passed you can still obtain permission.

What you will have to do is measure out the existing deck and draw up some plans just like you were starting from scratch. Find out what is required in your drawings from the city or town office. Bring your drawings in to see if you can get a permit.

The issue you can run into is this. If the deck was built, let’s say 10 years ago, and even if it met building codes at the time, if building codes have changed, you will find yourself having to do some work on the structure to bring it up to code.

You might luck out and there were no building code changes since it was built. If so, then the inspector will pop by to check the deck and fingers crossed will give it a thumbs up (pass).

Alternatively, building inspector might tell you to rip something apart and rebuild it in a specific way. Then you will have to abide by these instructions letting the inspector know when you are done so he/she can come back again for final inspection.

When Are Permits NOT Required for Decks?

Do you Need a Permit to Build a Deck
There are some instances where a permit is not required to build a deck. You should still do your due diligence to make sure you don’t need one.

Something else to be aware of is that even though a permit might not be required, you could still have to report the structure to your city or town office because of zoning bylaws.

Decks that may not require a permit:

As mentioned previously depending where on the lot you place this structure you might be required to get a zoning permit instead of a building permit.

Related Questions to Building a Deck Without a Permit

Do I need a permit to repair a deck? This will depend on the extent of the repair. If you are just replacing some deck boards and maybe some railing then a permit is not required. If you are replacing anything structural like joists then yes you should get a permit. You will also want the deck inspected when you are finished.

Do I need a building permit to put a roof over my deck? Yes, if you are attaching a structure (roof) to your home then you will require a permit. This ensures that the roof meets building code safety standards.

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