Building a Shed Without a Permit [Risks and Consequences]

You’ve finally decided to pull the trigger and build that shed you’ve been planning for a few years. You have a plan, bought your materials, and started prepping the ground where it’s going to sit. There’s still one thing missing – the permit. But what are the risks and consequences of building a shed without a permit?

Building a shed without a permit can result in fines, removal of your shed, and even a lien being placed on your property. You’ll need a permit for your shed if the square footage is either 100 or 120 square feet, depending on your state or municipality. Any size shed with plumbing will also need a building permit.

It’s important to note that every state, province, or municipality has varying requirements for when to get a permit to build a shed. Factors such as foundation type and utilities, such as plumbing or electrical, can also make getting a permit a requirement regardless of shed size.

Whether you decide to get a permit or not, understand that the consequences could be more far-reaching than you think. It may also hinder your ability to get full value for a home sale or have your shed insured in the event of an accident. I recommend always getting a permit – you’ll rest easier knowing your bases are covered.

Building a Shed Without a Permit

Do You Need a Permit to Build a Shed?

If your shed is larger than 120 square feet, then you will need a building permit. Some areas only allow non-permitted sheds of up too 100 square feet – check with your state or municipality building services department for information.

  • If you already have a shed on your property, you may need a permit for a second shed of any size.
  • If you are installing plumbing to a shed of any size, you will need a permit.
  • Running electricity to your shed may also require a permit, although some municipalities do not require it. If it is not required where you live, you should get it signed off by an electrician for house insurance purposes.
  • If you live in an environmentally sensitive area, you may need a permit for any new construction to ensure compliance with local environmental protection laws or bylaws
  • If you have a field bed and septic system, you may need approval regardless of the size of the shed. In some cases, your local health authority may be involved resulting in an extra fee.

What Happens if You Build a Shed Without a Permit?

Building permits for sheds are not just money grab for your local governing body. While they do present a hurdle to weekend builders – not to mention a cost – they exist to ensure not only you but also your neighbors are safe.

When you build a shed without a permit, the following can occur:

  • Fines
  • Lien on your property
  • Complaints from neighbors
  • Structural failure
  • Homeowner’s Association penalties

We’ll look at the penalties for building a shed below. One of the most common consequences of building a shed without a permit is that a shed builder has built to close to his or her neighbor, resulting in complaints or just general anger.

A building permit gives you the shed builder, peace of mind even when neighbors complain. If you follow the rules and get a permit, then the neighbor simply has to look in your front window to see that you have indeed obtained a building permit and that the structure complies with local codes.

If you live in a community regulated by a Homeowner’s Association (HOA), then you will also have to get permission from them as well as get a permit. While there is no consistent HOA process, you should contact the head of your HOA, if applicable, to ensure your shed is compliant with HOA rules.

Remember – HOA rules and regulations do not always match up your local building code, so just because you have a building permit for your shed doesn’t mean you are compliant with your HOA building code.

But the biggest reason for getting a permit for your shed is to ensure it is structurally sound. Will your shed stand up to the elements such as wind or heavy snow loads? Will it flood? Applying for the building permit will assess all of these issues.

The permit office will study your structural diagram to ensure joists, rafters, trusses and other framing members are the proper distance apart. For the roof, they will make sure the roof pitch works with the roofing materials you plan to use. Not only do permit officers want to make sure you are safe – their codes and standards ensure your structure is built to last.

What Is the Penalty for Building a Shed Without a Permit?

Fines for building shed without permit

Building a shed without a permit can be a major headache if you get caught – so much that it never pays to do work without a permit. Below we will look at the various penalties for building without a permit.

Building Without a Permit Fines

Building a shed without a permit can result in fines that can be extremely steep. In some jurisdictions, first-time offenders can be fined up to $50,000 and up to $100,000 for a second offense.

Other municipalities will include jail time as part of their penalties. For example, in Buffalo, NY, the penalty for not obtaining a permit is either a fine of $1500 or 15 days in jail. Each day after in that the permit is still not obtained is treated a separate offense. Once you’ve been caught, the penalties multiply quickly.

Most municipalities will have a sliding scale of financial penalties. In Portland, ME the fine is between $500 and $2500 a day. If you don’t fix the permit issue after notification from the city, that penalty increases to a minimum of $500 up to $5000 a day.

If you make a mistake and forget to get a permit and get caught, it is likely that the inspector or building services department will be lenient. The heftiest fines are often for willful misconduct – but that still is no reason to chance to build a shed without a permit.

Building Permit Penalties and Liens

There are many instances where a homeowner has built a shed without a permit, receives notice in the mail of the violation, but neglects to open or just throws the violation away without looking at it. At this point, the city can put a lien on your house.

A lien gives the city or municipality co-ownership of your property until you pay off the fines that you owe them. Typically a lien is placed on a property and the homeowner pays it, and the lien is removed.

However, if the homeowner never pays the lien and neglects it, it will come back to get them in one of two ways. The first way is that when they sell their house, they will first have to pay off the lien before they receive any proceeds from that sale.

The second consequence of neglecting a lien in your house for not getting a permit for your shed would be that the municipality seizes your property and forces your home to sell. This is a less common situation but does happen, although you would have more than ample warning before your home being seized by the bank.

How to Get Around Building Permits

I do not advise trying to “get around” building permits. As you can see above, the penalties for getting caught are way too steep to risk getting a permit.

In many municipalities, the cost of a building permit is around $100. This is a fraction of the cost of your new shed, and a small price to pay to avoid all the hassle and headaches of getting caught by your local building department or a nosy neighbor.

But how does your city or state know that you’ve built a structure without a permit? Typically municipalities will mail or give you a permit with a brightly colored notice to hang either in a window of your house or to post visibly at the front of your property. Not having this notice while doing construction makes it hard to get around not having a permit.

The only real way to get around a building permit is to size your shed just a few inches below the size mandated for a shed permit. If your municipality allows sheds up to 100 square feet, then you could size your shed a few inches shorter on each end to avoid the size requirement.

Can I Get a Retroactive Shed Permit?

Yes, you can get a retroactive permit on your shed. Regardless of who built the shed, whether you or the previous owner, you can get a retroactive permit on your shed if the work is still up to current building codes and regulations.

If the shed is just that – a utility shed – then it is easy for an inspector to check the framing and any electrical or plumbing that you might in your shed. If the shed is in an area cluttered with other structures or miscellaneous items, you’ll have to clear the area to show the foundation.

If you are buying a home and there are structures, like sheds, with no permits attached to them, you are in an advantageous position to negotiate a lower price or add a stipulation to the sale of getting the shed up to code or even permitted, before buying.

What information is Required When Applying for a Shed Permit?

Maximum shed size without permit

The information required for getting a permit to build a shed depends on the requirements of your local building services department. At a minimum, you’ll need to fill out an application and answer basic information about your house.

You may need to pull out your property tax receipts to get certain information like your lot or concession number. You’ll also have to provide a description and potential value of the structure.

Besides an application, you’ll need a detailed lot plan showing all structures on your property, setbacks from property lines, and exact dimensions of everything within your property boundaries. You’ll also need to include:

  • Lot Dimensions
  • Location of easements
  • Distance between structures and proposed structures
  • Distance between structures and distance to property lines
  • Drainage Patterns
  • Driveway
  • Any private sewage system, such as a septic system and field bed
  • Wells, if not on city water

You’ll also need to provide a construction plan that shows all dimensions and includes a foundation plan. Other information that you might need to include:

  • Wiring or plumbing diagram
  • Lot grading plan
  • The total value of construction, including materials and labor.
  • Cross-section showing load-bearing walls and beams
  • Elevation plan
  • Floor plan

When Are Permits Not Required for a Shed?

As mentioned above, most sheds larger than 100 square feet will need a permit. Some municipalities will allow you to build a shed up to 120 square feet without a permit. Anything less will not require a permit.

Many popular shed sizes, such as 8×8, 6×8, or 8×12 are, in many cases, allowed to be built without permits.

Remember, if you build a small shed that doesn’t require a permit, you are still indebted to your HOA regardless of its size. Always check with them before building.

How Much Is a Building Permit for a Shed

A building permit ranges in price from just under $100 to $200. In some areas, such as New York State, you can get an expedited building permit by paying more – around $250.

Keep in mind there are also ancillary fees depending on where you live and what type of environment you live in. You may need approval from health authorities if you are building near your septic system – this is a separate fee and can range up to $300.

Conclusion

Building a shed without a permit is not a good idea and can result in financial penalties that exceed the cost of a permit many times over. Even if you live out in the woods without anyone around, the consequences could affect your home’s insurance or sale.

You can always build a smaller shed, or a couple of smaller sheds, in place of a larger shed that requires a permit. Or you can simply pay the permit fee, which will only cost you a fraction of the cost of the materials you use for your shed.

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what happens if you build a shed without a permit. If you have any comments or suggestions of material that could be added to this article, please drop me a line below.

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