The Building Permit Process - Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding and following the City’s permitting and zoning requirements is crucial when renovating or building a new home. Always do your homework upfront to avoid delays during construction and ensure you have allocated enough funds for items that require legislative approvals. Today we will be focusing on the building permit process, however, depending on the scope and location of your property, it is also important to investigate things such as site plan approvals, zoning and conservation authority approvals.
I had the opportunity to connect with John Lane, Manager of Building Permit Services at the City of Hamilton to review some common questions I receive regarding the process. Thanks, John for taking the time to share your knowledge!
When would a homeowner need to obtain a building permit?
Homeowners are required to obtain Building Permit for any proposed ‘material changes’ to their homes. I use the term ‘material change’ because it is mentioned in the Ontario Building Code. Because the term is somewhat subjective, Chief Building Officials across the province interpret it differently. Consequently, homeowners should always contact their local municipal Building Department before commencing any project. CBO’s have been appointed by the Building Branch of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as the ‘Authority Having Jurisdiction’ and have the right/duty to interpret the code in their own way. Here is a list (which may not be completely comprehensive) of things that are commonly/usually considered as ‘material changes’:
· Additions, (rear, side, front, second storey)
· Decks, (any size - attached to the house)
· Decks, (not attached to the house but exceeding 10m2 in size)
· Accessory buildings that exceed 10m2 in size (garages, gazebos, cabanas, sheds, etc.)
· Accessory buildings of any size that contain plumbing
· Finishing a previously unfinished space, such as a basement or attic
· Any type of structural work, (such as enlarging window/door opening widths or removing load bearing walls and replacing them with beams)
· Changing the use of the building, (from a single family to a duplex or triplex for example)
· Changing the exterior siding from one type of siding to another
· Relocating or adding new plumbing fixtures
· Septic tank installation/replacement of major repairs of septic system
· Installation of solar panels that exceed 5m2
· Underpinning the foundation to create a deeper basement
Why do you need a building permit?
The simple answer to this question is: because it is the law.
The better answer to this question is: the permit application, issuance and inspection process ensure buildings and structures are designed and constructed to the minimum requirements of the Ontario Building Code and comply with all other applicable law, (such as zoning by-laws, conservation authority regulations, MOE, etc.). Buildings are structurally sound, are constructed in a way that prevents the spread of fire, that have adequate access to and egress from the building, are equipped with adequate air handling systems and washroom facilities, are built in a way that is energy conscious and are barrier free for citizens who have particular disabilities/challenges.
The best answer to this question is: Building Permits ensure that buildings are built correctly, thereby preserving the health and safety of the public, and comply with local zoning by-laws regulate development to preserve the harmony in communities, neighbourhoods and cities.
How are permit fees calculated?
Most municipalities use formulas (found in schedules in their Building By-law) that prescribe a certain dollar amount per square meter of construction. There are some municipalities that still calculate permit fees in an antiquated fashion: they base their permit fees on the estimated cost of construction, (1% of the cost to build a house, for instance, may be the permit fee), and may even have ‘a la carte’ permit fees, (such plumbing permits that may list a $10.00 fee per fixture)
Here is the link to the City of Hamilton’s Fee Schedule
How long does it take to obtain a building permit for residential renovations?
The Ontario Building Code prescribes certain timelines for Building Departments to respond to permit applicants. For residential renovations, in 10 days for application, the applicant should either have their permit, or, have received a letter from the municipality that lists fully outstanding deficiencies that must be addressed in order to issue the permit.
Can you start any work before a permit is issued?
The answer to this question is a big NO, however, non ‘material change’ work, like removing wallpaper, cupboard doors, flooring, etc. can take place.
What is the process once the permit is issued?
Once a permit is issued, the permit holder (or agent) is obligated to call for inspections at certain stages of construction. These stages are listed in the OBC, but, most often, the Building Department will staple an information letter to their issued permits that list the prescribed inspections, and when to call.
Once the permit is issued, who is responsible for calling for inspections?
The permit holder, (or agent). Also, subtrades (such as plumbers) can call on behalf of the permit holder. However, if an inspection call is missed, the person who is ultimately accountable is the permit holder.
What are the consequences of not obtaining a building permit?
The OBC Act is written in a way that gives people who chose to build without a permit a ‘chance’ to comply. Building Inspectors will normally issue Orders to Comply notices to people who are caught building without a permit. These orders have deadlines for compliance. If permits are obtained prior to the deadline, no further action needs to take place. However, some homeowners dig in their heels and refuse to comply with Inspector’s orders. This is a Provincial Offence. Municipalities can prosecute these people. Once in court, and found guilty, Justices of the Peace will select a fine that is proportionate to the offence.
Where can folks find information on the permit process?
Most municipalities have websites that outline the process and explain the various requirements/obligations there are to obtain a permit.
Is there a general number that homeowners can call to speak to someone regarding permit information?
Their municipal Building Department.
City of Hamilton, Building Division City Hall, 3rd floor Phone: 905-546-2720 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Does the City of Hamilton require licences for contractors, if so, which ones?
Yes. Certain contractors in Hamilton must be licensed: Building Repair Contractors, Plumbers, HVAC Installers, Drain Repair Contractors and Fire Sprinkler Installers. When any of these contractors advertise, contract with the public and do work for homeowners, they must be licensed. Being licensed is an assurance that they are insured, have provided a Police clearance and are competent, (in some categories, they must pass a competency exam).
Who is authorized to submit permit drawings for residential renovations?
An Architect or P. Eng. (but this would be overkill). Most residential renovations are designed by designers who are registered with the Province. Their registration number is referred to as a “BCIN”. BCIN stands for Building Code Identification Number. (Under article 184.108.40.206 of the Ontario Building code- house designers must have their BCIN # to provide design service & issue construction drawings in Ontario.