Bulletin 1997 V28-2
By Connie Fraser, Paralegal Intern
Residential real estate agents may be asked by their sales or property management clients and customers to coordinate property repairs, renovations and improvements. Agents should be aware that there are building permit requirements for such work. Permit requirements are not limited to new construction.
North Carolina statutes and the residential building code mandate permits for certain repair and renovation projects. Generally, a permit is required to do work that affects a load-bearing structure, an addition or change to a heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) or plumbing system, and all electrical work.
These important safety regulations are enforced by the city or county inspections department or inspections division of the planning department which has jurisdiction over the property. The inspections department issues the permit and inspects the completed work for compliance with the code. Some inspections departments interpret the law and code more strictly than others, so permit requirements may vary locally. A good rule to follow is, "When in doubt, find out!" Call your local inspections department with your questions.
Permit requirements apply even if the homeowner does the work. The code may require that a licensed contractor do the work if a permit is required. As the owner's agent, review the contractor's proposal carefully to ensure that the permit fee is included in the contract price and that the contractor will arrange for inspections. Be aware, however, that the homeowner is responsible for compliance with the code's requirements even if he or she hires someone to do the work.
Here are some common home repair and improvement projects and how permit requirements may apply to them.
Load-Bearing and External Building Components
Decks are load-bearing structures; therefore, a permit is required to build, repair, or replace a deck, or to change its design. Decks have their own permit law.
A roof is considered a load-bearing structure; however, some roof repairs do not require a permit. A permit is required to replace any wood on the roof (for example, to repair a hole in the roof caused by a fallen tree) or to place shingles on top of existing shingles. The law does not require a permit to replace shingles with the same type, but a permit is required if the replacement shingles are of a different type (for example, replacing asbestos shingles with fiberglass or wood shakes).
Siding is not load-bearing; therefore, no permit is required for siding jobs.
Chimneys are not load-bearing structures, but some inspections departments require a permit for major chimney work, such as repairing a chimney which has separated from a building or installing a chimney liner.
The law requires a permit to replace, add to or change the design of an HVAC system. An example is replacing a furnace powered by electricity with a gas furnace. A permit is usually not required to repair or replace existing HVAC components when the overall system design is unchanged. In such instances, follow the "when in doubt, find out" rule.
A plumbing permit is required to make additions to or change the design of plumbing, for example, moving a pipe to accommodate a new sink, dishwasher or garbage disposer. The same is true of changing from copper to plastic piping or installing a different size pipe. No permit is required to replace existing plumbing components with the same size and capacity. Likewise, a plumbing permit is not required for the installation of a new sink or appliance without adding pipes or disturbing the underlying plumbing.
Replacing a water heater is a common repair. A plumbing permit is required to install a different type water heater (for instance, switching from electric to gas) because this is a design change. Most inspections departments don't require a plumbing permit to replace a water heater with a new similar model.
By law and the code, all electrical work involving "hard wiring" (i.e., not plug-in appliances and cords) requires a permit. Not all inspections departments interpret the law literally, however. Some will not require a permit for minor electrical work, such as replacing a light fixture or electrical outlet. In such instances, follow the "when in doubt, find out" rule. Installing an electric water heater requires an electrical permit, even if no design change is occurring and no plumbing permit is necessary. Installing an attic fan is also a hard-wire job which requires a permit.
The Real Estate Commission does not expect its licensees to be experts on the code requirements that apply to property repairs and renovations. However, you should be able to obtain this important information for your clients and customers. When in doubt, find out!
[The Commission wishes to thank Grover Sawyer, P.E., from the North Carolina Department of Insurance, who contributed to this article.]