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jwholden 12-02-2003 07:47 PM

I think I'm on the verge of looking like a real schmoe on my current, large, job. We are installing a 500 square foot bluestone patio withgranite edging and granite steps. So far three people have seen my materials and been wowed by how much this must cost.

I got a call from thier carpenter today, luckily I recommended him, and he wanted to know when he could without being in our way. He mentioned he had to pull a permit for some french doors he is installing and asked if I had one for the patio. :huh:

I have never got a building permit for any job in my 10 years of doing this type of work. However, I will look like a real J-----s if the building inspector shows up and spots a project that should have one. I will be calling the building department tommorow and asking plenty of anonymous questions. I figure worst case I will go down and get one late and pay some penalty fees.

I just do not want to look like an idiot contractor, which I fear I may.

Do any of you guys get permits for sidewalks and patios? Is this one of those details that everyone knows about and I have been conveniently ignoring? What do they want to check for a permit or is it just the dollar amount of the project so they can jack up the homeowners taxes? Help...

Stonehenge 12-02-2003 07:51 PM

It varies from state to state, but in Wisconsin, in general, if it's not attached to the house, it doesn't need a permit (for the kind of work we do). There are a few exceptions, but this is generally true.

As a side note, you might want to add a clause in your contract that says 'client is responsible for securing all permits.' The permit process can sometimes be very quick, other times it can be very drawn out. I will put any necessary sketches together to help them, but that part is their baby. Otherwise, if there are variances needed, and town meetings to go to, presentations to make, etc, I'd lose my shirt on the project before I started. Either that or I'd have to charge another $1500 just to get the permit.

Will Pacala 12-02-2003 08:26 PM

I agree with stonehenge it can vary by state so I would still check it out just to be sure. I'm not even entirerly sure what the rule is for me in New Jersey.

Nek 12-02-2003 09:23 PM

Hey John--- In my hometown, a patio permit is not needed. I did a bit of research on this one.:D

If the patio is part of a larger project, ie 4'+ wall, then a permit is required.

Paul 12-02-2003 09:28 PM

I would check with your local city or village, they are the ones that issue most permits. A quick way to check is to see if your city or village has a web site. Most here have one and list what work requires a permit and what doesn't. It might save you a few calls that might get you noticed in a bad way (fines are no fun!)

Bill Schwab 12-02-2003 10:30 PM

99% of the time, there are no permits required on any privately owned/ contracted flatwork. There usually are for publicly owned walks, states depending.

There are however more often than not, certain enforceable building codes, and I'll give you two examples.

In California, most of the homes are stucco. At the bottom of the stucco walls, there is a vent made from sheet metal. You cannot for any reason have your flatwork less than 2 inches of that vent, with ramping under thresholds being the only acception.

In Alabama, you must have a minimum 1% pitch away from all on all flat work that is within 3' of a structure. Niether state requires a permit, but, you can be forced to redo work that does not comply with these requirements.

In Illinois, if you build steps out the back of a sliding door, they had to have an equal unit run and rise for each step. No step could be less than 4" in rise, or less than 12" of run.
Being that we are a state that requires licensing, they can come after your bond if you refuse to comply.

Paul has a great suggestion by checking online, I find that it can be less time consuming to place a call to the inspections and permits department of that city and ask an inspector.
It is usually less time than routing through rheams of links and clutter on municipal websites... Also, talking directly to an inspector will allow you to cut through the chase, as there may be some requirements written, and addendums that were left out. Anyone looking at the San Diego building codes will vouch for this...
An inspector will typically know these short cuts.

It would be intersting to see what you find out. Hope this helps!

Will Pacala 12-02-2003 10:34 PM

Thanks for the info. I know that if it a ffects the existing house it needs a permit. Like a deck or deck doors, addition etc. Any thing that is on the house.

agla 12-03-2003 06:53 AM

Where I am masonry steps don't need one (or have to conform to zoning), but wooden ones do. In either case, you need to meet code as far as risers and railings go.

Each place is different, though.

Tim 12-03-2003 04:35 PM

Bill and Paul both give good advise and samples on this question. I just wanted to add that in most of the states which I have done work in, the general rule is that if the flat work isn't public( city side walk, approaches, curb and gutter, etc), and no structure is to be built on it(room additions, decks, sun porches, etc) then no permit is usually required. Definitely check out and comply with any of the building codes though!

I think it is wisdom that one personally secures all the proper permits before even starting any work at the job site without exceptions. These fees are over and above any signed bids, and our contracts state this in detail. We Got burnt once from a property owner that claimed to have all the permits, but didn't. I hate taking classes over at the school of hard knocks! Tuitions a killer!!! :censored: Tim

Stonehenge 12-03-2003 05:22 PM

Tim, what have you done in cases where you needed to do more than provide a sketch and pay the fee? I can see that being a big drain on your time, one that might become uncomfortable to collect on, when you present the client with a bill for 50 extra man-hours to secure the right permit.

jwholden 12-03-2003 06:02 PM

I stopped by the town hall today and went to the Building Department and the Engineering Department.

The building department said there is no need for a permit for patios. They said setbacks do not apply to patios as well, only decks. I got a funny look when I asked the question so I feel ok with them. Sidebar - I spoke with the secretary, not the building inspector, could be a mistake.

When I went to the Engineering department they gave me an even funnier look. Two people there consulted with each other and said the my only concern would be if I was installing a patio within 100' of a watercourse, then I should contact inland/wetlands.

I have covered my bases and am not worried about the town coming after me. However, you never know if a building inspector on the jobsite will think of something the people back at the office didn't. I don't see what more I could do to explain my project without seeming like I'm begging for a permit.

jwholden 12-03-2003 06:15 PM


I had some roofing done on my house and the contractor got the permit. I have no doubt he worked the time spent getting the permit into the proposal. I have to agree with Tim that I would rather get the permit myself, and be sure all bases are covered, than have the homeowner do the minimum neccesary and end up looking like a shmoe.

If you are spending 50 extra man hours to secure permits I'm assuming the job is more than a sidewalk or patio. Could you could give an estimate of the time involved and the cost per hour. If someone is doing a project that takes that much time there should be a permit budget.

The carpenter I spoke with last night was of the attitude don't get a permit unless you really need to because your only asking for trouble from the town. Frankly, I agree your only asking for trouble from the town, but think that if the town code says get one then get one, and charge the customer for it. This is a poor attitude from a guy like me that has never got a permit, or considered getting one, until yesterday.

The carpenter said that if the homeowner wants a permit he charges a flat rate of $400. He said he will draw up whatever the homeowner needs for the job 'free' if they get the permit themself.

What is your office assistants time worth an hour? Could you send them or one of your foreman to get/fill out the paperwork? If you multiply 40 hours at $50 an hour does it justify the time spent? The roofer sent one of his guys to my house on a rainy day to get my signature, that was one of their rainy day projects.

Just my .02.

Stonehenge 12-03-2003 07:36 PM

I don't know if the time could be estimated. Well, let me put it this way - the estimate or line item would probably work on 95% of the requests for permits. But in the case where you have to take time to make sketches, photos, meet with the client, meet with town boards, hold up production.... Pretty soon you're eating a lot, or you're having to spend a lot of time handholding the client, all of which is gobbling up time you could spend doing something else.

The carpenter you talked to did have a point. Put another way, my father has told me "If you kick it, then you've gotta smell it."

As for my office assistant.... uh, I don't know whether it'd be worth sending my assistant, mainly because I don't have one yet.

And I realize this sounds like I'm putting the client out in the cold, but if you tell them what permits to get, and they tell you they have them, and you being work only to be stopped by the town for NOT having the right permits, what happens? Make you tear it down? So long as they are current with payments, it's a lesson for them, not you. Sounds like I'm a jerk (and maybe I am), but I'm just trying to unload as much liability as I can. I have enough already.

Will Pacala 12-03-2003 08:27 PM

I would always double check whats under the patio. If the leach field or septic or gas tank is below the proposed patio site, you may need a permit. You may even need to move the whole patio plan over to one side or the other. If it affects something attached to the house you will most likely need a permit.

On the other hand does anything involving electricity connected to the house require a permit? Like a pond, lights, waterfall, etc. Scince it's connected to the house it just might. I would check that out.

Bill Schwab 12-03-2003 08:39 PM

In California, as well as numerous other states, as a contractor, you are considered the expert. This means if permits need to be pulled for ANY reason you being the professional should know what you need to do to secure and run this job.

The way I get around it and the associated costs, is to bid the work, then, add the clause "plus cost of permits" Now, this does not mean JUST the cost of permits. Example here, for a patio cover we built, it was $250.00 filing fee, $165.00 for acceptance fee...(San Diego is a major PIA) and then I added the 6 man hours at $62.50 per hour it took to obtain approval, the 3 times it cost me $12.00 a pop to park and the work I lost doinking around with the city BS, and the drawing board time. Typically, no matter how much a buildfing permit costs, I charge a minimum of $1,000.00 no matter what I have to get done.

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