A construction permit or building permit is a government-issued document that authorizes your business to construct a new building, add on to an existing structure or undertake major renovations to an existing building.

Construction permits help local governments monitor new construction, and ensure that all work meets relevant building, mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes. The exact permitting rules and requirements will vary depending on your location. Your city or county's building inspection department, office of planning and zoning, or department of permits will usually be responsible for construction oversight and enforcing all relevant laws.

Types of Permits

In many places, the local government that issues permits, a city or county, for example, will divide construction permits into several categories, depending on the nature of the work. There may be structural permits, electrical permits, plumbing permits, mechanical permits or combination permits that are issued when several types of work are being done. Your business may also be required to obtain a demolition permit if such work is being performed.

How Do I Get a Permit?

When you apply for a construction permit, you'll be required to submit an application, an application fee and your plans, including detailed drawings and specifications, for the work to be done. Your general contractor, architect, plumber, electrician or mechanical engineer can supply you with these plans. Depending on the complexity of your project, the permits may be issued on the spot, or you may have to wait for the government to review your application and plans.

Once you receive your permit, the government expects the construction work to precisely follow the plans. Any deviation may have to be reapproved.

Your general contractor can take responsibility for obtaining many of the necessary approvals and permits, as well as scheduling required inspections. Make sure that you've discussed this in advance with your contractor. The contract you sign should clearly spell out who is responsible for obtaining specific approvals, licenses and permits.

What Happens Once a Permit Is Issued?

Once your permits are issued, construction can begin. But make sure you read and understand the conditions of your permit. For example, you may be required to prominently post your construction permit in a location that's visible from the street.

It's also important to understand when necessary inspections must be performed. Although building inspectors can make surprise visits, you'll probably have to schedule inspections for certain key points of the construction. Your building contractor or subcontractors can schedule these inspections, but make sure that these responsibilities are clearly spelled out before beginning the work. Ultimately, if your business fails to schedule the necessary inspections, the government will hold your company--not your contractor or subcontractors-- responsible for failing to follow the rules.

If you don't have the appropriate approvals and permits, or if you've failed to follow the plans as originally submitted, your business runs the risk of being fined and ordered to cease construction work. If the inspector determines that the construction is unsafe and cannot be fixed, the inspector can order the demolition of the structure.

What Does a Building Inspector Examine?

As a small business owner, you want your company and your employees to operate out of a structure that is safe and built to meet or exceed all relevant building codes. The building inspector is an experienced, impartial expert who will make sure that your contractors and subcontractors are building a safe structure for your company.

The inspector will probably visit your site several times during and after construction. He checks to confirm that the work follows the previously approved plans. He also examines the building to ensure that it is structurally sound. In many jurisdictions, the inspector is responsible for issuing a certificate of occupancy, which may be required before you can legally move into a building.

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