How To Find Out If A Building Permit Was Obtained

Every homeowner needs a building permit especially if they are planning on doing renovations on their house.  If your neighbor is doing renovations and you are not too sure whether they have a building permit here are a few things that you can do.

Table of Contents

What are building permits?

Building permits are documents or certificates that are issued by the city for anything that is being built. If you are doing construction work, renovations or demolition work you need to have a building permit which guides you on what to do.

How to find out if a building permit was obtained

Do online searches to find out if a building permit was obtained

The internet is the easiest and most convenient tool to make use when trying to find out if a building permit was obtained. The advantage of using the internet is that you can do all your research from the comfort of your house. You can search on any of the websites listed below:

Municipality building department website

Under this website you will be able to find out who exactly is responsible for issuing out building permits in your area. There are two different bodies that usually issue out building permits, either the municipality or the county’s office. Once you are sure which entity is in charge of authorising building permits you can then contact them directly on their website.  Firstly you can check if they have an online database which contains all the building permits obtained. You can then download this information and check whether a building permit was obtained by your neighbor.

The National GIS of Building Plans and Construction Information

This is a free national database of construction information which you can make use of. All you have to do is to visit the website and create a free user account before searching for a building permit. If the permit is available you can get it from the system, however if you are having a hard time then you can always fill out an inquiry form on the website and one of their staff members will contact you with all the information you need.

NB: if the internet fails you then you have to resort to the following options.

Physically consult your local building department to find out if a building permit was obtained

When you get to your local building department, ask the clerk politely for the building permit records of your address. There is a chance that the clerk will ask you to fill out some FOIA request forms, you should just cooperate because at the end of the day they will give you a printed copy of the building permit.

Consult the contractor who constructed the property in order to find out if a building permit was obtained

If you have an idea of who the contractor is then you should definitely approach them. There is a good chance that they will also have a copy of the building permit. This is because no contractor is allowed to do any building work where a permit has not yet been obtained.

How to report construction that is happening without a building permit

Contact building inspection department

If you are certain that the construction work happening in your neighborhood is illegal and no building permit was obtained you have to report to the building inspection department. When reporting the complaint make sure you remain anonymous as this helps to maintain your reputation. Remember to give them all the necessary information for example the exact location where the construction is happening, the contractors name and also explain what kind of construction work is taking place. This will help the building inspection department when they are filing in their investigation.

File an online complaint

A number of city council websites have a section were customers can file complaints. You can use that section to file in your complaint about the illegal construction activities happening in your area. Make sure the complaint is as detailed as possible so that they can easily take up the issue.

Is there a fine for building without a permit?

While many people opt to cut costs by doing DIY renovations without obtaining a building permit this is actually illegal and could result in you getting a fine.  In order to avoid being on the wrong side of the law, always obtain a building permit before undertaking any renovation or construction work to your house. Furthermore, there is another penalty fee you will pay if your DIY renovations cause harm to others. So always make sure you are on the right side of the law before doing undertaking any building activities.

Can you get a building permit after completing renovations?

While this might sound like a good option it actually depends on the type of renovations that you would have done. A building inspector will come to inspect the renovations that you would have done. If they are not impressed you will be asked to deconstruct everything and you risk being fined considering you would have done construction work without a permit. If the inspector approves your work there is also a chance that you could pay a higher amount for the permit. Therefore, it is always a good thing to obtain your permit before undertaking any construction or renovation activities on your house.

How can you use permit records

Building permit records give you information about every contractor that has done renovations on your house. This helps to ensure that if you are having problems with certain features within your house you can always contact them directly. Furthermore, contractors can give you discounts if you have proof that they previously did some work on you house which can actually be a benefit on your side.


Having a building permit is very important as previously noted. Remember that doing any construction work without a building permit is illegal and could lend you in serious trouble. Furthermore, you can always report you neighbor if they are building without a permit.