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Building permits: Make it legal or regret it

Your aging home needs some repairs. So, you head to the hardware store on the weekend and load the car with lumber, nails, windows and some spools of electrical wire. You've just joined the ranks of the weekend warriors. Your home will come to life after some sweat equity.

Stop.

Before you slam those nails into the roof, did you check to see if you need a building permit from your local building department? Do you know how to string electrical wire to meet state building requirements? Is your neighbor, who plans to replace the windows, a licensed contractor? Is he insured?

Save yourself some aggravation. Check local building codes. It could ultimately save you money.

The two biggest issues facing building inspectors in Florida are homeowners hiring unlicensed contractors — like neighbors — to perform work and not obtaining proper permits, said Rick Dunn, St. Petersburg's top building official.

If homeowners hire a friend or neighbor to perform work, Dunn said, the homeowners are required to pay taxes and insurance, as employers do. He stressed that the state building code protects homeowners and also requires licensed contractors to warranty their work for at least one year.

"It protects the property owner from improper lawsuits," Dunn said. "It also provides them a warranty."

Florida adopted statewide building codes in March 2002. Prior to adopting the code, more than 470 local building codes existed in Florida. All builders are now required to work under the same rules.

The basics of permits

These questions and answers apply only to residential work.

When is a permit required?

Permits are needed to alter, erect, construct, locate, modify, repair, occupy, maintain, remove or demolish any building or floating residential structure or any objects connected to buildings, structures or facilities.

Why are permits required?

To maintain minimum requirements that safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare through structural strength. Also, each licensed contractor pays into a statewide fund that pays homeowners who have been cheated by contractors.

How much do permits cost?

The cost depends on the type of permit. Price lists are available on websites for many city and county building departments (contact information, Page 1H).

How long does it take to get a permit?

If all documents, like blueprints and application, are properly completed and submitted, most permits are issued in two weeks or sooner. Permits expire if the project is not started and inspected by a building official within 180 days of the permit being issued.

What inspections are needed?

When a permit is issued, the required inspections will be listed at the bottom. Homeowners are responsible for obtaining all inspections before proceeding.

Do you need a licensed contractor to perform the work?

Yes. However, Florida law allows homeowners to perform the work if the single-family or duplex property is for the use of the owner and is not being sold or leased for at least one year after the final approved inspection. Homeowners acting as a contractor must sign the permit at the building department.

"If they don't obtain a permit, there is no one to verify minimum codes," Dunn said.

What happens if a homeowner does not obtain a permit before starting a project?

Obtaining an "After the Fact" permit could double the price of the original permit. You could also be fined if caught. Neighbors or contractors could report you.

But if equipment needs to be replaced in an emergency situation, like an entire air-conditioning unit, the permit applications can be filed the next business day.

What automatically requires a permit?

Any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing project. For example, installing new circuit breakers or adding a new gas line for a range. But clearing clogged drains or replacing parts on a furnace or water heater doesn't require permits as long as the units are not altered.

What about your town?

Although Florida has uniform building codes, each municipality can exempt certain projects from permits. Some cities might not require a permit to replace windows. Some might.

If a project is exempt from a permit, the work still must meet minimum building codes and ordinances. For example, homeowners in St. Petersburg's historic neighborhoods would not be allowed to install a chain-link fence in the front of their house.

The rules could vary in each city for roofs, windows, doors, siding and any other work. A good rule to remember is that if the project touches a wall or supports a structure, a permit is needed, Dunn said.

He offered this advice: Check with your local building department before starting the work.

Sources: Florida Building Code Section 101 and St. Petersburg building official Rick Dunn

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459.

ONLINE

Verify their license

The Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation maintains a database of names and businesses within the construction industry as well as electrical contractors and more. www.myfloridalicense.com.

Some permit contacts

Most of the largest cities in the bay area have their own building departments for permit information and particular requirements; other communities fall under their respective counties. Note that you may need to search "permits" within some sites.

Pinellas: www.pinellascounty.org/build

Hillsborough: www.hillsboroughcounty.org/pgm

Pasco: secure.pascocountyfl.net/bccpapa

Hernando: www.hernandocounty.us/bldg

Some city websites

St. Petersburg: www.stpete.org/

development

Tampa: www.tampagov.net

Clearwater: www.clearwater-fl.com

Largo: www.largo.com

Building permits: Make it legal or regret it 01/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 10:16am]
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