Do You Need a Permit to Tear Down a House?

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A demolition permit is a legal document that gives you the right to tear down any structure that needed a building permit to construct. You’ll need a permit if you are razing the primary structure or any structures around your house. The requirements will vary based on your location.
One of the first steps of tearing down a house is getting a demolition permit. If the house is beyond the point of rescuing, moving it to a different lot or demolition can be the best course of action. Sometimes, houses deteriorate and are in such poor condition that they can’t be restored. 
Figuring out what to do with a dilapidated house can be stressful. That’s why car and home insurance broker and app Jerry has put together everything you need to know about demolition permits. 
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When do you need a demolition permit? 

Demolition permits are required for a few situations, including the following:
  • Removing or razing primary structure(s) from a lot
  • Removing or razing any accessory structures with mechanical systems, utility systems, hazardous materials, or a basement-type foundation from a lot
  • A building that is going to have an additional renovation that will require a substantial amount of demolition
You also will need to keep in mind that demolition permits are not one size fits all. Each structure on the property that will be torn down needs a separate permit. For example, if the lot has a house, separate garage, and a shed that need to be demolished, then three demolition permits will be required.

What are the requirements of getting a demolition permit? 

The requirements of getting a demolition permit may vary on the location of the demolition. Various code provisions of the local municipality will list specific requirements for obtaining your demolition permit. 
To get a demolition permit, you will need to provide a completed permit application, a completed and inspected plumbing permit, and a submitted and approved grading plan. 
Depending on the municipality, you also may need to have a cash demolition escrow bond to ensure the demolition work, and the bond is usually refundable when the work is completed.
Key Takeaway: To get a demolition permit, you’ll need to follow the requirements of your city and submit the appropriate paperwork. 

When do I not need a demolition permit? 

A demolition permit is only required if the project is truly a demolition project. You will need to determine if your project will be a demolition or a major alteration. 
A demolition project is characterized by the removal of all exterior walls found above the foundation of the structure. It will be helpful to check with your local code provisions to see what is considered an external wall. Conversely, a major alteration involves removing at least 50% of the exterior walls above the foundation
In addition to major alterations, you do NOT need a demolition permit when:
  • Removing small sheds, garages, or other minor accessory structures that do not have utilities with separate connections or basement-type foundations
  • Removing porches, decks, or similar attachments to a structure if the intent is to rebuild after removal
  • Performing interior demolition to a structure or when the intent is to change or renovate the structure

Should I tear down my house?

Before fully committing to tearing down your house, you may want to consider hiring a financial consultant who can advise on the best course of action. They can look into the costs of demolition vs. repairs and see what will work best for you. 
Sometimes a house may look fully ruined, but it can be salvaged. There is the chance that fixing a crumbling foundation, sloping roofs, and thinning walls will be less expensive than you think. Getting permits to tear down and rebuild a house is usually more time-consuming and expensive than getting a remodel permit, as well. 
On the other hand, the land the home sits on could increase its worth without a house if the house has deteriorated. 

Demolition checklist

If you do decide to go ahead with the demolition, you’ll want to complete the following: 
  • Get a demolition permit: The first thing to do in your demolition project is obtain your demolition permit. Sometimes homeowners will do work without a permit, which is not advisable. A bulldozer in the yard will generate attention, so make sure you have your legal document first. 
  • Work with utility companies and the fire department: It is extremely important to make sure utilities such as electricity, gas, and water are properly disconnected before starting any projects. Your local utility companies and fire department may want to inspect everything and sign off on your project. 
  • Talk to your mortgage lender: Your mortgage is tied to the structure unless it is free of any liens or encumbrances. Since your lender has financial interest in the structure itself, you can’t demolish it without their permission. 
  • Submit building plans: If you are planning on rebuilding, submit all new plans to the correct authorities ahead of time to avoid getting stuck with an empty dirt lot. 

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Yes, you can demolish your own house. You will need to follow all guidelines, criteria, and codes, and you will need to provide all proper documentation.

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