When do I need a permit, when do I not?

When doing home renovations, do you know you may need a permit and who decides when one is required? You must have heard of Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments. These are basically an outline of the level governing bodies. Federal government controls national matter, provincial government control province rules, and municipal government control things around the city/township/district/land. Usually, rules are created at the national level, then adopted by the provincial government with slight alteration to fit the provincial characteristic. Some municipal government will alter it further to suit their needs. For the municipality that did not create their own version, we revert back to the provincial rules. We call this the “Authority having jurisdiction”.

I don’t know if you have heard conversation that goes like this. A guy gets asked where he’s from and answers “Vancouver”, then his friend said “I thought you are from Burnaby?”. The guy responded “Yeah, Burnaby, Vancouver”. Okay, there’s no such nonsense when you deal with government. I understand there’s something called “Metro Vancouver”, but each city within this big umbrella still have their own city hall, mayor, council and by-laws. Some city boundaries are very clear, like West of Boundary Rd. is Vancouver, East of Boundary Rd. is Burnaby. Some boundaries are more vague like Granville Island, which is partially BC, partially Vancouver. You need to first understand where you are, to see which set of rules to follow.

The municipal permitting system is based on the by-laws. There are sections in all by-laws that tells you when a permit is required or exempt. For a general understanding purposes, here are a few by-law that every project deals with. We have Building By-Law (Building Code in most cities), Zoning By-Law, Parking By-Law, Heritage By-Law, Tree By-Law, etc. They are all written in partial legal languages that requires interpretation. It is very hard for inexperienced property owners to understand. Since we need to provide drawings to apply for permit, my suggestion is to engage a design professional before contractors.

Contractors often tell homeowner that no permit is required. My advice is to always take this type of comment with a grain of salt. Not that every contractor are out there to cheat but, familiarizing with by-laws is simply not part of their scope. When dealing with complicated matters like renovation, you have to learn to ask the right question to the right person. My suggestion is to engage a design professional, even if your project does not require a permit. Because even though most municipality has the service of answering questions, you have to be speaking the same language with the same terminology in order to get an accurate answer. Also, when dealing with the city, words means nothing unless you put something down on paper. A well drafted set of construction drawings can give you the most accuracy.

We have prepared a general list of items for you to see if permit is required or not. This list is prepared based on our experience and should not be considered as legal or professional advice; please consult a professional before going ahead with any home renovations.

  • Changing Tub to Shower, Shower to Tub (Depends)
  • Replace Sink in the same location (No)
  • Replace sink to a different location (Yes)
  • Replace sink in the same location but making it at different height (Yes)
  • Changing light bulb (No)
  • Changing the lighting fixture (Yes)
  • All gas related modification (Yes)
  • Putting a nail in the wall to hang pictures (No)
  • Lowering the floor (Yes)
  • Add stair (Yes)
  • Deck repair (Depends)
  • Building a wall (Yes)
  • Building a 4′ high wall (Yes)
  • Re-Drywall (Yes)
  • Change Structural Beam (Yes)
  • Change floor finishes (No)
  • Painting the room (No)
  • New Deck (Yes)
  • Pave a part of lawn (Depends)
  • Repair a portion of exterior walls (Depends)
  • Re-Cladding (Yes)
  • Change roof shingle to shingle (No)
  • Change roof shingle to concrete tiles (Yes)
  • Put a 10×10 Costco shed on your property (Depends)
  • Prune my tree (No)
  • Prune my tree to the point that the tree may die (Yes)
  • Relocate a tree (Yes)
  • Park a trailer in my parking lot for a year (Yes)
  • Put construction garbage bin on my site (Yes)

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