When you need to increase the available square footage in your home, the answer may be beneath your feet. Well, that is, if you are one of the lucky homeowners to have a home with a basement. Believe it or not, finishing a basement is one of the most common household renovations. Yet, there are many mistakes that homeowners make when attempting this type of home renovation.

Finishing your basement is one of the easiest ways to maximize your home.

If you are considering finishing your basement, you may think that acquiring a building permit is not necessary. After all, you are just going to be hanging up some drywall, sectioning off a room or two, and other mundane tasks. Plus, no one will see anyone working on the basement, so what does it matter? However, building permits are required, and there are some serious consequences if you fail to get one before you begin work on your basement.

Ready to find out more about building permits and how they relate to finishing your basement? Keep reading to learn more.

How Common Is Unpermitted Work?

Unpermitted work is actually very common. There are many reasons why contractors and homeowners perform unpermitted work. Contractors often bypass securing a permit to ensure they submit competitive bids. In doing so, they increase their chances of getting more jobs. Homeowners tend to perform to save money.

Permits can be expensive, often costing hundreds to thousands of dollars. The cost of a permit will vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Permits are based on either a flat rate, square footage of the space, or the construction value of the space. Permits are so expensive due to the fact that the local building office must follow ongoing construction work.

In other words, an inspector must come out to your home periodically to ensure building regulations and rules are followed. If they are not, the inspector can pull your permit until you are up to code.

What Happens If You Don’t Get a Permit?

First things first, don’t assume that you are literally breaking the law by not getting a building permit to finish your basement. However, you may be breaking a “bylaw” set forth by your local jurisdiction.

So, what is a bylaw? Bylaws are local laws that the authorities do not enforce. Instead, the city enforces these laws. Of course, depending on where you live, failing to get a permit could mean committing a misdemeanor.

In any case, it is essentially illegal to perform work on an unfinished basement without the proper building permit. Cities create and enforce bylaws to ensure the safety of all residents. When these local building codes are not followed, consequences follow.

While the penalties you may face are not as severe as being arrested and jailtime, the consequences can be harsh. Let’s look at a few of the potential penalties for failing to get the proper building permit for finishing a basement.


The most common penalty for not obtaining the necessary permit is a fine. In many instances, as a first-time offender, you can get off with a slap on the wrist, so to speak. In other words, the city will allow you to submit a retroactive permit application. Of course, you will still need to pay the fine that they have levied against you.

You may be curious about how much the fine will be. These fines will depend on where you live. You can expect anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $1,000 or more.

Now, keep in mind that the city must still approve the retroactive permit. Also, your home must undergo the necessary site visits to ensure everything is up to par. But this is much better than the next penalty. 

Removal of Completed Work

Some cities will require homeowners who have failed to obtain a permit and finished their basement anyway to remove any completed work. In other words, you must restore the basement to its former condition. Regardless of your work, the city could potentially force you to remove everything because you didn’t get a permit.

basement under construction
Failing to get a permit may result in the removal of any finished work.

Also, it is important to understand that, as the homeowner, you will be responsible for any charges that are incurred during the removal of this completed work. Failure to comply with the city’s requests can result in further fines and possibly even legal action, such as being charged with a misdemeanor.

Reduced Property Value

Since building permits are designed to help ensure that home renovations are completed in a safe and correct manner, reduced property value is another consequence that you face when you fail to get the permit. When an inspector cannot approve the completed work, the work cannot be verified to have been done properly, potentially costing you later on if problems crop up. This can lower your home’s value.

In the event that you decide to place your home on the market to sell at some point in the future, potential buyers may request that someone pull past permits for that property. If there were no permits submitted yet work has indeed been completed, there is a chance that prospective buyers may walk away from a deal or negotiate a lower offer.

Lack of Homeowner’s Insurance/Increase in Premiums

In the event of a disaster, such as a fire, your homeowner’s insurance policy is unlikely to offer coverage for a finished basement without the proper building permit. This is true regardless of the circumstances.

Alternatively, the opposite could take place. Your insurance company may choose to increase your insurance premiums. In their eyes, they believe this is necessary to cover the replacement cost of a finished basement. Why? They believe damage is more likely to occur to the space since it has not been properly inspected and assessed.

If you make sure to get that permit before completing your basement, your home insurance rate won’t be nearly as high. Ultimately, home insurance companies see building permits as a sort of guarantee that work performed on a home is safe and less likely to fail. As a result, there is less of a risk for insurance claim filings.

Condemning of Home

Although this is the least likely of all of the consequences here, there is a rare and possible chance for the city to condemn your home. Usually, this only occurs when there is serious damage done to the home as a result of the work performed on the basement after failing to get the permit.

Usually, cities will only use this as a threat to a homeowner, giving them the chance to remedy the issue. Some of these issues include infrastructure failure and black mold. However, if you are unable to correct the problem yourself and can’t get help from the insurance company, there is a risk that the city may condemn the home.

How to Obtain a Building Permit for Finishing a Basement

While it may seem like a daunting and complicated task to get a permit to finish your basement, the process is relatively easy if you prepare. Plus, obtaining the necessary building permit is worth it in the end. This is especially true when you consider all of the potential consequences and penalties that you face if you don’t get a permit.

house plan

Here are the basic steps of obtaining a building permit to finish a basement. Keep in mind, you should still check with your local building office to ensure there are no other steps required by your local municipality.

  1. Draft a Building Plan. Take the time to create a “business” plan of sorts by detailing the plans for your project. Make sure to include structural changes and estimate the cost of the entire project.
  2. Contact the Local Building Office. Consider reaching out to the local building office to speak to someone about your plans for finishing the basement. This will give you a chance to get some professional feedback on your plans before you submit your application.
  3. Obtain and Complete the Permit Application. Pick up the permit application at your local building office. The information required on the application will likely vary depending on the coding and zoning laws set forth by your city. In any event, you will likely need to present your building plan and get the necessary signatures, such as a notary.
  4. Submit the Permit Application with Fee. Take the application to the local building office, along with the submission fee. Now, just wait for approval so you can begin construction on your basement!


When you need extra space in your home, an unfinished basement is the perfection solution. However, trying to finish it without the proper building permits is not the wisest choice, which you can see from the aforementioned information.

Hopefully, you found this information helpful and realize how important it is to get a building permit from your municipality before finishing a basement.

Thank you for reading and don’t hesitate to check out the related articles below for your other home needs.