Contractor suggests skipping out on permits for $50K Kitchen remodel, bad idea?

Winny

Well-known member
Oct 30, 2023
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Hey everyone, wanted to share an interesting question I found on Reddit recently. I think it's the kind of question you all would be interested in addressing. So the reddit post in question is about a homeowner who is interested in doing a $50K kitchen remodel and isn't sure if they should pull permits for the work. The work includes adding circuits and rerouting electrical and plumbing lines.

The thing is, their contractor has suggested they skip out on the permits to save up to $7K in fees. Along with that, the contractor thinks they could avoid the hassle of extra work trying to bring everything up to code, plus any time delays. The homeowners are of course concerned about the risks of doing that, since they plan to sell the property in the future.

You can check out the Reddit discussion here - Reddit

What are your opinions on this? Do you think it's wise to go ahead without the permits? Or if they're already paying $50K for the remodel, maybe they could budget for $60K instead? Would you proceed without the permits under these types of circumstances?
 
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United States
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I would not risk it, that contractor is not going to have that persons best interest in mind if he doesn't go through the permitting process. He's just being lazy and won't do the job he's likely being paid to do in the first place. It would save the homeowner some money, sure, but it wouldn't save them from the headache of the city or state coming down on them for not properly permitting the changes done.

Securing the required permits ensures all of the new renovations meet local building codes and safety standards. It's important for your safety and if you ever plan to sell as well. If you're not permitted and want to sell, it could come back to haunt you when inspections go wrong. It could in the end, impact the sale or even lead to legal problems down the road.

Not being permitted could also result in future fines, and you could be forced to redo the work you already put in. Being permitted safeguards you from these problems. You need to hire licensed professionals who are okay with pulling the necessary permits, as they will also follow the building codes strictly. You want to make sure your work is done correctly the first time. Otherwise it could come back to bite you in the long term.
 
How much is your home, and your life, worth? Decor may not require a permit but electrical and plumbing definitely need not just a permit but an inspection to ensure the work is done to code. It could be costly but so is a fire or flooded kitchen and that is what you are risking if you don't obtain a permit for the work.
The contractor will not be liable for damages incurred if the company did not obtain a permit, they can just "wash their hands" of the whole thing, and walk away. The insurance company may not be willing to pay for the damages either. That leaves the homeowner on the hook for damages and possible injuries, not to mention the fact that in some jurisdictions code enforcement can fine them and require permits retroactively (which happens all the time - I get calls on this regularly) and their house may not be saleable down the line.
Some companies will give discounts for not obtaining permits but personally, as a homeowner and permit expeditor, I always hire a reputable license contractor that is NOT asking us to waive the need for permits - and I make the contractor pull the permit too. I ask for a copy of the permit to make sure the scope is correct before I let anyone work on our home.
 
I wouldn't recommend that, especially since the home owners are planning to sell in the future. If an inspector finds out that the work has not been permitted, they will be fined and given an order to comply, which would incur more charges. Failure to obtain a permit within a set amount of time will cause that charge to go up. If this happens, there will be a lot of stress that could've been avoided, trying to obtain the permit(s) while being time pressured by the incurring charges.
 
I am a permit tech in a very small town but this would be a massive red flag for that contractor and could potentially disqualify him from obtaining a contractors license with our town. I hope the homeowners realize that this could backfire horribly if they ever decide to sell the home, or simply it could be a fire hazard to not have the new electrical inspected and brought up to code.
 
I would not risk it, that contractor is not going to have that persons best interest in mind if he doesn't go through the permitting process. He's just being lazy and won't do the job he's likely being paid to do in the first place. It would save the homeowner some money, sure, but it wouldn't save them from the headache of the city or state coming down on them for not properly permitting the changes done.

Securing the required permits ensures all of the new renovations meet local building codes and safety standards. It's important for your safety and if you ever plan to sell as well. If you're not permitted and want to sell, it could come back to haunt you when inspections go wrong. It could in the end, impact the sale or even lead to legal problems down the road.

Not being permitted could also result in future fines, and you could be forced to redo the work you already put in. Being permitted safeguards you from these problems. You need to hire licensed professionals who are okay with pulling the necessary permits, as they will also follow the building codes strictly. You want to make sure your work is done correctly the first time. Otherwise it could come back to bite you in the long term.
Yeah I agree. The reddit user I feel wants to save money, and the contractor got into his head thinking it could end up being fine. But there's always that chance something goes wrong, and if it does, it comes back to the homeowner to deal with. The contractor could peace out any day and leave you with the problems.
How much is your home, and your life, worth? Decor may not require a permit but electrical and plumbing definitely need not just a permit but an inspection to ensure the work is done to code. It could be costly but so is a fire or flooded kitchen and that is what you are risking if you don't obtain a permit for the work.
The contractor will not be liable for damages incurred if the company did not obtain a permit, they can just "wash their hands" of the whole thing, and walk away. The insurance company may not be willing to pay for the damages either. That leaves the homeowner on the hook for damages and possible injuries, not to mention the fact that in some jurisdictions code enforcement can fine them and require permits retroactively (which happens all the time - I get calls on this regularly) and their house may not be saleable down the line.
Some companies will give discounts for not obtaining permits but personally, as a homeowner and permit expeditor, I always hire a reputable license contractor that is NOT asking us to waive the need for permits - and I make the contractor pull the permit too. I ask for a copy of the permit to make sure the scope is correct before I let anyone work on our home.
Exactly, the contractor can get away with it and leave the homeowner dealing with the results of their mistake. You could probably try and sue them for it, but I doubt a judge would side with the homeowner when the responsibility lies with them.

Great suggestions! :)
I wouldn't recommend that, especially since the home owners are planning to sell in the future. If an inspector finds out that the work has not been permitted, they will be fined and given an order to comply, which would incur more charges. Failure to obtain a permit within a set amount of time will cause that charge to go up. If this happens, there will be a lot of stress that could've been avoided, trying to obtain the permit(s) while being time pressured by the incurring charges.
That's another thing, they intend to sell in the future, and going with unpermitted work could in turn result in problems selling it later. Which is why it's imperative to get permitted. Oh, and they aught to look for a new contractor. Any contractors suggesting they don't obtain permits, is not doing their job right.
I am a permit tech in a very small town but this would be a massive red flag for that contractor and could potentially disqualify him from obtaining a contractors license with our town. I hope the homeowners realize that this could backfire horribly if they ever decide to sell the home, or simply it could be a fire hazard to not have the new electrical inspected and brought up to code.
My guess is this guy is not a very good contractor or he's trying to pull one over on these homeowners. He might even be trying to land that $7K that would go towards the permits, as he could be suggesting they use that $7K for the work he plans to do, in turn possibly pocketing some of. I can see that being a reality in this case.

I think what they need to do, is not hire this contractor. That's the first thing I'd do, look for a different contractor, one that will have my best intentions in mind. And will file the needed permits on their behalf.
 
How much is your home, and your life, worth? Decor may not require a permit but electrical and plumbing definitely need not just a permit but an inspection to ensure the work is done to code. It could be costly but so is a fire or flooded kitchen and that is what you are risking if you don't obtain a permit for the work.
The contractor will not be liable for damages incurred if the company did not obtain a permit, they can just "wash their hands" of the whole thing, and walk away. The insurance company may not be willing to pay for the damages either. That leaves the homeowner on the hook for damages and possible injuries, not to mention the fact that in some jurisdictions code enforcement can fine them and require permits retroactively (which happens all the time - I get calls on this regularly) and their house may not be saleable down the line.
Some companies will give discounts for not obtaining permits but personally, as a homeowner and permit expeditor, I always hire a reputable license contractor that is NOT asking us to waive the need for permits - and I make the contractor pull the permit too. I ask for a copy of the permit to make sure the scope is correct before I let anyone work on our home.
I agree 100% with everything you have to say on this. You will only incur the costs as a homeowner if you decide to let your contractor do work without a permit. The original reddit poster should know better, considering the risks that come from doing work unpermitted. It has got to be a scary situation to be a homeowner who has done this, because they probably incur many fees and setbacks due to it. So it's better off to just go through the process of getting permitted so that you're safe going forward.
I wouldn't recommend that, especially since the home owners are planning to sell in the future. If an inspector finds out that the work has not been permitted, they will be fined and given an order to comply, which would incur more charges. Failure to obtain a permit within a set amount of time will cause that charge to go up. If this happens, there will be a lot of stress that could've been avoided, trying to obtain the permit(s) while being time pressured by the incurring charges.
Yeah good luck selling a property that has unpermitted work. Even a small amount of unpermitted work could come back to haunt you later on when you attempt to sell.
I am a permit tech in a very small town but this would be a massive red flag for that contractor and could potentially disqualify him from obtaining a contractors license with our town. I hope the homeowners realize that this could backfire horribly if they ever decide to sell the home, or simply it could be a fire hazard to not have the new electrical inspected and brought up to code.
If a contractor told me to do this, I would no longer be working with them. No contractors should be traying to cut corners or costs because they say they can do it. I would never work with a contractor that asks you to just skip the permits. They don't have your right interests in mind and are going to leave you with the problems.
Yeah I agree. The reddit user I feel wants to save money, and the contractor got into his head thinking it could end up being fine. But there's always that chance something goes wrong, and if it does, it comes back to the homeowner to deal with. The contractor could peace out any day and leave you with the problems.
Who doesn't right? Everyone wants to save what they can if it's possible. But in this case, it's a bad idea that will only come back to hurt the homeowners. Spend the $7,000 on the permitting needs and all will go well.
 
That contractor needs an ethics check.
I guess it's easy to suggest something like that when it's not your home or your life you're risking.
That gives me a huge ick feeling...if I ever came across that I would recommend the homeowner find another contractor.
 
That contractor needs an ethics check.
I guess it's easy to suggest something like that when it's not your home or your life you're risking.
That gives me a huge ick feeling...if I ever came across that I would recommend the homeowner find another contractor.
100% agree. It makes me wonder if the contractor is even a licensed one, because no contractor I know would even consider asking me that, or risking the homeowner in such a way. This contractor clearly doesn't care about the risk they put on the homeowner. I'm willing to also bet the contractor would cut corners so he could collect more of the budget for himself. This guy sounds like he's done it before.

But, it's possible he's unlicensed and doesn't even know what he's talking about. The homeowner should have immediately cut ties and communication from the contractor, say you've decided to go in a different direction, and thank him for his insights and be done. As well, I'd probably report the contractor just to be safe. He doesn't sound trustworthy and could be a danger to other people looking to use his services.
 
That contractor needs an ethics check.
I guess it's easy to suggest something like that when it's not your home or your life you're risking.
That gives me a huge ick feeling...if I ever came across that I would recommend the homeowner find another contractor.

I'm going to be a contrarian here and side (at least partially) with the contractor, because I don't know all the details and I think situations do arise where getting a permit isn't in the best interest of the homeowner. For example, over in this thread, I discussed a laundry room remodel I'm in the process of completing that involves some very minor electrical and plumbing work. My building department (San Marcos, CA) told me that in order to get permitted I'll need to provide them with plan drawings drafted by a licensed architect. They said that a licensed architect needs to be enlisted for any project involving electrical/plumbing work, no matter how minor, which seems completely unreasonable to me. I feel that I should be able to provide the building department with a much simpler depiction of the work (e.g., done by the contractor on graph paper) and they should be able to work with that, rather than having me spend thousands of dollars on excessive architectural design services. As far as I can tell, the building department seems to be actively deterring homeowners from obtaining permits for minor work through their inflexibility on this requirement.

So, guess what? I'm not getting a permit for the work. I discussed permitting at length with the contractor and we're both aligned in the position that obtaining permits is unreasonable for my specific project. I've also discussed the risks of not getting permitted with my wife (e.g., homeowner's insurance) and, after some deliberation and weighing of pros/cons, she's also in agreement that moving forward without a permit is the most sensible plan.

For the $50K kitchen remodel example we're discussing here, I highly doubt I'd want to skip permitting given how extensive the electrical wiring and plumbing work appear to be. Given the size and cost of that project, I think I'd want to pay a licensed architect to produce the requisite plan drawings and do the project right. My only point is that I don't think the homeowner and contractor are being 100% unreasonable in weighing their options and questioning the permitting requirements - so long as the contractor is communicating honestly, transparently, and in good faith with the homeowner, of course.

We shouldn't moralize permitting and we definitely shouldn't pretend that the government is always right. Some amount civil disobedience is justified when requirements are inappropriately costly and the risks associated with non-compliance are negligible.
 
It is unfortunate that the department won't work with you at all, especially for a smaller project. Thanks for sharing your experience/perspective, it definitely makes sense, and honestly, I don't blame you for going the route you did.
 
I'm going to be a contrarian here and side (at least partially) with the contractor, because I don't know all the details and I think situations do arise where getting a permit isn't in the best interest of the homeowner. For example, over in this thread, I discussed a laundry room remodel I'm in the process of completing that involves some very minor electrical and plumbing work. My building department (San Marcos, CA) told me that in order to get permitted I'll need to provide them with plan drawings drafted by a licensed architect. They said that a licensed architect needs to be enlisted for any project involving electrical/plumbing work, no matter how minor, which seems completely unreasonable to me. I feel that I should be able to provide the building department with a much simpler depiction of the work (e.g., done by the contractor on graph paper) and they should be able to work with that, rather than having me spend thousands of dollars on excessive architectural design services. As far as I can tell, the building department seems to be actively deterring homeowners from obtaining permits for minor work through their inflexibility on this requirement.

So, guess what? I'm not getting a permit for the work. I discussed permitting at length with the contractor and we're both aligned in the position that obtaining permits is unreasonable for my specific project. I've also discussed the risks of not getting permitted with my wife (e.g., homeowner's insurance) and, after some deliberation and weighing of pros/cons, she's also in agreement that moving forward without a permit is the most sensible plan.

For the $50K kitchen remodel example we're discussing here, I highly doubt I'd want to skip permitting given how extensive the electrical wiring and plumbing work appear to be. Given the size and cost of that project, I think I'd want to pay a licensed architect to produce the requisite plan drawings and do the project right. My only point is that I don't think the homeowner and contractor are being 100% unreasonable in weighing their options and questioning the permitting requirements - so long as the contractor is communicating honestly, transparently, and in good faith with the homeowner, of course.

We shouldn't moralize permitting and we definitely shouldn't pretend that the government is always right. Some amount civil disobedience is justified when requirements are inappropriately costly and the risks associated with non-compliance are negligible.
I suppose in some cases the contractor may be looking out for you. In your situation I can totally understand. The fact they were trying to charge you $2000 to have an architect draft up plans is crazy to me, considering the work you have planned isn't really a big project. I could in this case, see a contractor write up the plans, and do the drawings.

And I 100% agree about the government there, they're not always right in these type of situations.
 
It is unfortunate that the department won't work with you at all, especially for a smaller project. Thanks for sharing your experience/perspective, it definitely makes sense, and honestly, I don't blame you for going the route you did.

Thanks @Emily C and @Winny - I appreciate your sympathies on this. If nothing else, I wanted to share that experience as a way of shaking up our default "permit always good, non-compliance always bad" paradigm a little and adding some nuance to this thread :). I definitely consider not getting permitted to be a last resort.

The fact they were trying to charge you $2000 to have an architect draft up plans is crazy to me, considering the work you have planned isn't really a big project. I could in this case, see a contractor write up the plans, and do the drawings.

I was actually told it would be more like $5,000 for the licensed architect, which really was a non-starter for us.

Reflecting back on it, I think I would have been less frustrated if the permit tech had offered any explanation whatsoever as to why a licensed architect is always required for electrical/plumbing permitting and why they'd consider a simpler depiction (e.g., on graph paper) to be inadequate. The only sort-of explanation they provided was to tell me, "because our senior permit tech said so," which obviously didn't do much to win me over.

If a requirement is based on a hard-and-fast policy (e.g., stated explicitly in code) that's one thing. I think it's when a requirement seems unreasonable and, as best you can tell, is the result of arbitrary and insensitive decision-making by staff that really frustrates people.
 
ohhh heck no. Seriously?! That is maddening.

If I'm going to be at all civically minded, I feel like my next step probably needs to be contacting city hall or the mayor's office or something. I am a city taxpayer after all, so it really is my responsibility to engage my local government and voice opposition to my building department's inflexibility on its licensed architect requirement.

Is there a "best" city official to reach out to if your goal is to meaningfully influence how your building department operates? The mayor? The city manager? Maybe just call the building department back and ask to speak with a supervisor?
 
Try talking to the Building Official. They would probably be the ones in charge of the permit techs; if that doesn't work, try the Director, who should be overall in charge of the department.

Start within the department itself, and if nothing happens, then go higher.
 
Thanks. I just left the Building Official a voicemail. Agreed on inquiring fully at the department level and then going higher. I think talking to the Building Official should also help clarify whether the licensed architect requirement is rigid policy or if flexibility/discretion can in fact be exercised at the staff/supervisory level.
 
permits are required, as a general rule, when you are installing outside of the prescriptive code. there are so many problems that can arise from not getting permits which most have commented on. In addition to all this if you are found to be in noncompliance with regard to obtaining permits the permit fees will double. Not to mention the down time because the municipality will want to review what's being done. With that delay the contractor will start losing subs for your project.

Most building departments, like mine, will advise if this is over the counter or requires a review. if it doesn't require either the applicant will be advised of that... again the idea of ethics doesn't only fall on the contractor, building departments should be held just as accountable.

Just sayin
 
I was actually told it would be more like $5,000 for the licensed architect, which really was a non-starter for us.

Reflecting back on it, I think I would have been less frustrated if the permit tech had offered any explanation whatsoever as to why a licensed architect is always required for electrical/plumbing permitting and why they'd consider a simpler depiction (e.g., on graph paper) to be inadequate. The only sort-of explanation they provided was to tell me, "because our senior permit tech said so," which obviously didn't do much to win me over.

If a requirement is based on a hard-and-fast policy (e.g., stated explicitly in code) that's one thing. I think it's when a requirement seems unreasonable and, as best you can tell, is the result of arbitrary and insensitive decision-making by staff that really frustrates people.
That is an insane amount for an architect to go over and make sure your property is in order. Are architects usually this expensive all around for work like this? Doesn't seem like a job that would require payment like that.

And wow, that's all they had to say about it? I don't get why an architect would be needed for simple work, contractors should be able to pen up the plans for work like this. They are contractors, they can measure for goodness sakes lol.
If I'm going to be at all civically minded, I feel like my next step probably needs to be contacting city hall or the mayor's office or something. I am a city taxpayer after all, so it really is my responsibility to engage my local government and voice opposition to my building department's inflexibility on its licensed architect requirement.

Is there a "best" city official to reach out to if your goal is to meaningfully influence how your building department operates? The mayor? The city manager? Maybe just call the building department back and ask to speak with a supervisor?
I say go for it. It might actually push them to change a little and enact rules that actually make sense.
permits are required, as a general rule, when you are installing outside of the prescriptive code. there are so many problems that can arise from not getting permits which most have commented on. In addition to all this if you are found to be in noncompliance with regard to obtaining permits the permit fees will double. Not to mention the down time because the municipality will want to review what's being done. With that delay the contractor will start losing subs for your project.

Most building departments, like mine, will advise if this is over the counter or requires a review. if it doesn't require either the applicant will be advised of that... again the idea of ethics doesn't only fall on the contractor, building departments should be held just as accountable.

Just sayin
I agree. I think with this Reddit discussion, the homeowner should move on to a different contractor and apply for all the necessary permits. This kitchen remodel sounds like it may be a lot of work, especially if it's going to run the homeowner up to $50K. Better to just pay the fees and apply for the appropriate permits so that you're good if any problems come up.
 
Thanks. I just left the Building Official a voicemail. Agreed on inquiring fully at the department level and then going higher. I think talking to the Building Official should also help clarify whether the licensed architect requirement is rigid policy or if flexibility/discretion can in fact be exercised at the staff/supervisory level.

Update: I talked to the Building Official yesterday and they confirmed that a simple sketch - not plans prepared by a licensed architect - is all that's required for my small laundry room remodel. I summarized the direction I received from the Building Official over in this post.
 
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