Unresponsive permit offices - is moving forward with unpermitted work ever justified?

Nomad

Well-known member
Aug 26, 2023
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I found an interesting question on Reddit that I thought would be worth sharing here. The Reddit poster is very frustrated with their local government's slow and unresponsive process for building permits. According to the poster, they have been trying to get permits for home improvements, like fixing their garage floor and expanding their driveway. Despite following all the rules and submitting all required documents, they are not getting any response. They are so frustrated with the delays they are thinking of going ahead with the work without a permit.

What do you think? Are permit applicants ever justified giving up on the process and moving forward with unpermitted work?
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I thankfully never dealt with such a situation, but I know people who have waited days, weeks and even months for an answer back. So I totally get why the process can be annoying.

When it comes to dealing with your local building departments and the overall permit process, there are things you can do to help address the situation. First things first, it's ideal to reach-out and air your concerns with your local building department. Engage with them, especially if you notice inefficiencies, or a lack of responsiveness from them. You need to be involved and voice your concerns, as this can be a good way to highlight the issues that are going unnoticed. This could in turn lead to improvements with the system.

Make sure whatever work you want done requires a permit, and make sure you know the specifics of what is allowed with said permit. Take into account the costs, the process, and when permits are needed. Having this knowledge can prevent said delays and make sure you're always in compliance with your local regulations.

And last, but not least, is if you encounter any significant delays or receive no response from the building department, consider prodceeding further with caution. I understand the wait process is not ideal and it may be tempting to just go ahead without the permit, but doing so could lead to future complications and issues, especially if the work done is not within code or if inspections happen to be required.
 
I don't think it's worth it.
I know it's frustrating, but what's stopping the person from going in to the office?
The office could be facing staff shortages, which isn't an excuse, but sometimes the phones go unanswered because it's not a priority.

I would encourage the person to go in, or have someone go in on their behalf, and see what is going on. I would never encourage someone to do work without a permit, it's just not a good idea.
 
I don't think it's justified simply because is the permit office ACTUALLY unresponsive or is there a procedure in place to contact the office? If the work is started without a permit depending on what it is, there could be serious repercussions in the future with faulty electrical, non sturdy buildings, pool safety requirements, etc.
 
I wouldn't skip out on the permits. Find a way to get a hold of them. @Emily C had a good point of just going to their office and speaking to them that way. I don't like talking on the phone myself, I feel like in person is always easier to get your point across. So that's the route I would go in this situation.

We all know what happens when we're unpermitted for this type of work. I wouldn't risk the fines or other problems that can come from it.

I don't think it's justified simply because is the permit office ACTUALLY unresponsive or is there a procedure in place to contact the office? If the work is started without a permit depending on what it is, there could be serious repercussions in the future with faulty electrical, non sturdy buildings, pool safety requirements, etc.
Yeah that's a good point. In this case, it sounds like the redditor has inquired about the permits and even filed, but has heard no response from the permit office. I'd assume he filed and is waiting for it to be confirmed by the permitting office.

Which is why at this point, if I was the redditor, I would go to my local permitting office and start there.
 
I don't think it's worth it.
I know it's frustrating, but what's stopping the person from going in to the office?
The office could be facing staff shortages, which isn't an excuse, but sometimes the phones go unanswered because it's not a priority.

I would encourage the person to go in, or have someone go in on their behalf, and see what is going on. I would never encourage someone to do work without a permit, it's just not a good idea.
Yeah, you're probably better off just going to see them face to face, at least than you will likely receive an answer. I often think some permitting offices turn their phones off. I can see some doing that at least.

I don't think it's justified simply because is the permit office ACTUALLY unresponsive or is there a procedure in place to contact the office? If the work is started without a permit depending on what it is, there could be serious repercussions in the future with faulty electrical, non sturdy buildings, pool safety requirements, etc.
It sounds like they're unresponsive, but they could always go to the location in person. Otherwise, just letting it go and moving on without the permits will be far more costly in the long run.
 
I can understand someone getting frustrated and/or impatient if the timeline for the review process is not communicated to them up front. Simply letting the applicant know the process can take 10-15 days would alleviate some of that. But I do not recommend moving forward without a permit. They could be in violation of city or building codes and could potentially be fined.
 
I understand the extended review times with no communication can be discouraging but in no case is it a good idea to conduct unpermitted work. If I had an ongoing project with no communication via phone/email, the I would simply go to the location to see if progress is being made and find out what the best way of communication is for that office.
 
Long waits can be a reality today, but I have seen people in court because they did work without a permit and were cited and told to undo what they did. They don't always win with the excuse that they were tired of waiting.
In this situation they should probably talk with a specialist to find out what permits are required. A review from Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and traffic may be required which pushes out review times (sometimes to years). Repair of a garage floor would not require a permit in our jurisdictions, and neither does exterior flat work on your property, but you could get in a world of trouble if you widened your driveway by removing existing street, curb and gutter that are owned by the City/County. Not only are you destroying public property, but you may be compromising the traffic flow, infringing on existing utilities, and affecting existing development codes. I have seen these types of cases turn sour pretty quickly.
 
I can understand someone getting frustrated and/or impatient if the timeline for the review process is not communicated to them up front. Simply letting the applicant know the process can take 10-15 days would alleviate some of that.

As far as customer service goes, I think this is a point worth highlighting. As permitting staff, simply letting the applicant know you have a pulse can be critical in terms of providing the applicant with needed assurance and alleviating their frustration level. Even just a 10-second email telling them "sorry, we're backlogged but this is in my queue" is infinitely better than radio silence.

I understand the extended review times with no communication can be discouraging but in no case is it a good idea to conduct unpermitted work. If I had an ongoing project with no communication via phone/email, the I would simply go to the location to see if progress is being made and find out what the best way of communication is for that office.

Agreed - in the end, building code compliance is the homeowner's responsibility. Just like any other customer service operation (e.g., your insurance company), permit offices are run by human beings and won't always function perfectly. Some applicants inevitably draw the short straw and, for reasons beyond anyone's control (e.g., staff turnover), will unfortunately have to jump through a few more hoops than others. Still, the responsibly always lies with the homeowner to engage with the permit office, proactively and assertively if need be, to ensure their work gets properly permitted.
 
I understand the extended review times with no communication can be discouraging but in no case is it a good idea to conduct unpermitted work. If I had an ongoing project with no communication via phone/email, the I would simply go to the location to see if progress is being made and find out what the best way of communication is for that office.
I think this is the right step over all. Sometimes you have to go to the office and ask what's going on with the delay. That alone might push them to move the queue along.
I can understand someone getting frustrated and/or impatient if the timeline for the review process is not communicated to them up front. Simply letting the applicant know the process can take 10-15 days would alleviate some of that. But I do not recommend moving forward without a permit. They could be in violation of city or building codes and could potentially be fined.
It can be a very frustrating situation, and I think the wait is what pushes people to go unpermitted. Which is not good obviously. Permitting offices should be more forthcoming about the wait times, and if there is a delay, the system should notify someone on staff or the person applying for the permit.

Like, there should be a system where if there is a slight delay, people are at least notified. That would go a long way in helping ease their concerns with the wait.

In the meantime, it's best to call them out on their delay and wait times, going to them in person is probably your best option when there is an extended delay with no mention as to why.
Long waits can be a reality today, but I have seen people in court because they did work without a permit and were cited and told to undo what they did. They don't always win with the excuse that they were tired of waiting.
In this situation they should probably talk with a specialist to find out what permits are required. A review from Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and traffic may be required which pushes out review times (sometimes to years). Repair of a garage floor would not require a permit in our jurisdictions, and neither does exterior flat work on your property, but you could get in a world of trouble if you widened your driveway by removing existing street, curb and gutter that are owned by the City/County. Not only are you destroying public property, but you may be compromising the traffic flow, infringing on existing utilities, and affecting existing development codes. I have seen these types of cases turn sour pretty quickly.
People aren't patient most of the time, but to be fair some permit offices take too long to file and some don't even notify people of delays on how long of a wait it could be. But I agree, it's never good to just go unpermitted if you can't wait any longer, because the bad to come from it could be huge and costly.

You don't want to mess with the public roadways either, that's the key part here I think.
As far as customer service goes, I think this is a point worth highlighting. As permitting staff, simply letting the applicant know you have a pulse can be critical in terms of providing the applicant with needed assurance and alleviating their frustration level. Even just a 10-second email telling them "sorry, we're backlogged but this is in my queue" is infinitely better than radio silence.
Yes, a simple update every so often would be nice. It's sometimes the small things that make it better.
 
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