Building a Pergola Without a Permit [Risks and Consequences]

Your yard is an outdoor oasis, and many homeowners, including myself, work diligently to make the space comfortable and attractive. For many, adding a pergola seems like the perfect option. Pergolas are attractive architectural features that provide shade during sunny days. You’re also facing a dilemma about whether you can build a pergola without a permit and what happens if you do.

Building a pergola without a permit potentially comes with consequences. You might have to remove it after it’s built if the pergola is unpermitted. Financial penalties, such as fines and retroactive permit fees, also come with the territory in some situations.

However, not all pergolas require a permit. As an active DIYer, I decided to dive deeply into the world of building a pergola without a permit. If you’re trying to determine if it’s the right move for your project, here’s what you need to know.

Building Pergola Without Permit

Do You Need a Permit to Build a Pergola?

Whether you need a permit to build a pergola depends on several factors. First, local building codes and requirements play the biggest role. The rules can vary by location, outlining precisely when permits are necessary in your region.

However, many of the rules regarding permits for pergolas are similar. Typically, small decorative pergolas won’t have permit requirements, especially if they aren’t attached to a nearby structure and don’t have foundations.

The rules can change when you attach a pergola to a structure, foundation, or footers. In some cases, a permit is required, regardless of whether the pergola is small or large. This is primarily because the pergola will need to meet local building codes, and permit processes ensure the end result does.

But local laws do vary. As a result, you need to consult with your local permitting office to determine if a permit is a requirement for your project.

What Happens If You Build a Pergola Without a Permit

Do You Need Permit to Build Pergola

Building a pergola without a permit only has consequences if local law dictates that a permit is required for your project. If your pergola design and construction don’t make a permit necessary, going forward without one is essentially risk-free.

However, if you build a pergola that needs a permit without getting one, you’ll face many potential penalties. Here are some of the most common consequences of building a pergola without a permit.

Tearing Down Your Pergola

In some cases, local building departments can force you to tear down your pergola if you construct it without a permit. Typically, this occurs if the pergola doesn’t meet local building code requirements. In that situation, leaving the pergola up is a safety issue, so the building department can require its removal.

Requiring Professional Updates

Another potential outcome of having an unpermitted pergola that doesn’t meet building codes is hiring a professional to update it. The goal is to ensure that the result is safe and aligns with local requirements and restrictions. At times, it’s offered as an alternative by building departments, allowing you to fix the pergola instead of mandating its removal.

Stop Work Orders

When a building department sees unpermitted construction activities, it can issue a stop work order. That mandate prevents you from continuing with the build and includes penalties – such as steep fines – for ignoring the order and proceeding anyway.

Fines from the Permitting Office

Along with fines for violating stop work orders, permitting offices can levy other types of financial penalties. There can be charges relating specifically to the lack of a permit, some of which are charged daily until the pergola is removed or a suitable permit is acquired.

Voiding Your Homeowner’s Insurance

Unpermitted work can void all or a portion of your homeowner’s insurance. At a minimum, damage to the unpermitted structure or damage caused by the unpermitted structure typically isn’t covered. Additionally, injuries relating to the pergola also aren’t covered.

Depending on the issues with the pergola, your homeowner’s insurance could functionally end up fully void. Whether that occurs depends on how the pergola impacted the rest of your home and the exact terms in your coverage agreement.

Ongoing Safety Issues

Permit processes ensure the pergola you’re building is safe. Without a permit, the structure could be a hazard.

When not properly built, pergolas can collapse, resulting in injury. As a result, leaving it in place means there’s an ongoing safety issue on your property.

Trouble When Selling

While improving your yard can boost your curb appeal and strengthen the value of your house, unpermitted pergolas make your home harder to sell. You’re required to disclose any property improvements you’ve made. As a result, buyers often check to ensure the work is permitted.

If there isn’t a permit, several issues can arise. Some buyers may back out of the deal, and the value of your home typically drops. Plus, you might have to pay for permits to show the work meets local building requirements or take the pergola down if you don’t get a permit.

Can You Get a Retroactive Permit for a Pergola?

Getting a retroactive permit for a pergola is an option. The process involves submitting an application to your local building department. Then, a building office official reviews the document and conducts an inspection to see if your structure meets the code.

In many cases, a retroactive permit costs more than getting one before you build. Additionally, you may face other financial penalties. For example, back property taxes are potentially required if the structure wasn’t part of your home value calculation after it was constructed.

However, getting a retroactive permit is worthwhile. Along with easing the future selling of your home, it allows you to avoid additional penalties that can come with keeping an unpermitted structure.

How High Can a Pergola Be Without Planning Permission?

How High Can Pergola Be Without Planning Permission

How high a pergola can be without requiring planning permission varies by location. As a result, you’ll need to review local building codes to determine the limit in your area.

Most accessory structures – like pergolas – that are allowed without permits can have walls no taller than 10 feet. The peak at the top usually can’t exceed 12 feet. Additionally, the pergola must be detached from all other structures and can’t feature plumbing, electrical, mechanical, or heating systems.

However, the guidelines above don’t apply to all jurisdictions. As a result, if you want to build a pergola that doesn’t require a permit, check with your local building office to learn about restrictions.

What Information Is Required When Applying for a Permit for a Pergola?

Generally, the best place to learn about local pergola permit requirements is by contacting your local building office or reviewing building codes that apply to your property. Once you familiarize yourself with the rules, you can prepare to apply.

In most cases, a permit application requires specific details about your project. Along with a description, you’ll need to provide accurate drawings that show the overall construction and how it connects to your home. Often, an engineer-approved project plan is necessary, including all required drawings, measurements, materials lists, and similar details.

Once you have the necessary documents, you’ll usually submit them to a local building department for approval. You might need to set an appointment to get the process started or may be able to use an online process.

After submitting your request, the timeline for approval can vary. Typically, it’s best to plan for a wait time of 2 to 6 weeks. However, it’s best to check with your local building department to see when they anticipate making a decision, giving you a more accurate timeline.

Do You Need a Soil Analysis to Build a Pergola?

Whether you need a soil analysis before building a pergola mainly depends on if you need to dig concrete footings or install a new foundation. If not, then you usually don’t need a soil analysis. If so, a soil analysis might be mandatory.

A soil analysis allows a professional to examine soil samples to ensure your yard can support the weight of the structure. Generally, the requirements are outlined in local building codes, so research the relevant laws to see if you’ll need a soil analysis.

How Much a Pergola Permit Costs

The cost of a pergola building permit varies by location. Generally, you can expect it to run between 0.50 and 2.00 percent of the total construction cost. However, that’s just an average, so some homeowners may see higher prices for permits in their area.

Before beginning your project, contact your permitting office to learn about applicable permit costs. You can also find details online by heading to the building office’s website.

When Are Permits Not Required for Pergolas?

Usually, permits aren’t required if the pergola is freestanding. Freestanding pergolas are fully detached, meaning no side ties into a nearby structure. Typically, they require footings or foundations, which may or may not trigger permitting requirements depending on what’s currently available, how you’d tie in, and other factors.

Additionally, there are usually size limitations for pergolas that don’t require permits. The maximum height, width, and length vary by location, so consult your building department to see if a planned pergola falls within the parameters.

Do You Need a Permit to Repair a Pergola?

In most cases, you don’t need a permit to repair a pergola that’s already constructed and was correctly permitted when built. With repairs, you aren’t making notable alterations to the original plan for the structure.

However, if you’re doing updates that involve structural changes – such as altering the height, roof pitch, material sizes, material types, or how it ties into your home – then the situation changes. Significant structural changes alter the long-term integrity of the structure. As a result, a permit might be necessary to ensure the update aligns with local building codes.

Can an HOA Stop You from Building a Pergola?

While a homeowner association (HOA) doesn’t impact building codes directly, it can place restrictions on residents. In some cases, that includes barring the construction of specific outdoor structures, including pergolas.

Before you build a pergola, review any rules outlined by the HOA to see if they’re allowed. If they’re not listed as barred, then you can proceed with your project plan. If they’re banned, then building your pergola isn’t a smart move.

Building one in HOA areas that ban pergolas can leave you open to penalties. In most cases, that includes fines and potentially being required to tear the pergola down. Those consequences can occur regardless of whether you had an approved permit or if the pergola meets code requirements.

Additionally, HOAs can file a lawsuit against you if you build a banned structure and refuse to remove it once asked. Generally, this is based on your violating the HOA contract associated with your property. Along with the cost of a legal defense, you could pay far more than the applicable HOA finds, depending on what’s awarded in the final judgment.


While you can technically build a pergola without a permit, it’s critical to research building codes in your area and HOA requirements before you begin. By checking in advance, you can confirm whether a permit is required based on local law. If it is, get a permit before you start construction to avoid heavy fines and ensure you won’t have to tear your new pergola down.

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