Housing Resources Guide
Business Directory
Published 2006

When do you need a building permit?

By Ryan Gueningsman

When does someone need a building permit, and when can a project be done without one?

The regulations vary from city to city, or rural area, so the bottom line is that people should call their local building official.

In cities, the place to go is the city office. Rural residents generally should start with the township clerk, though they usually will be referred to other specific people.

In order to build a new house, or make improvements to an existing household, homeowners are more than likely required by the city or township to obtain a permit for the project.

Cost for a permit varies widely, again depending on the location and scope of the construction.

For larger projects, certain inspections are required, and fees are generally intended to cover the costs of those inspections.

"The building permit process involves filling out an application, providing an expense plan, and two sets of construction plans and the layout of the project," Lester Prairie City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said. "After they bring those required documents in, it all gets sent in to the building inspector's office. The city reviews the plans and figures the amount it will cost for a permit."

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After it comes back from the building inspector, the person who applied for the permit is notified and can come in and pick up the permit and pay the costs.

The process works generally the same way in other cities.

"Everything goes by the building inspector and the State of Minnesota fee schedule," Waverly City Clerk Deb Ryks said.

The chart to the right gives examples of various projects for which permits may or may not be required, but again, homeowners should always check to be sure before beginning construction.


Need a permit? These are general examples of construction projects that may or may not need a building permit. Check with your local building official to be sure before beginning any construction.

A permit is needed for . . .

· New home construction
· New garage construction
· New commercial or industrial construction
· Any addition onto an existing building or structure
· Sheds 120 square feet or larger (including overhang)
· Any fence higher than 6' tall
· Any retaining wall higher than 4 foot
· Swimming pools over 5,000 gallons
· Signs (commercial or industrial)
· Re-windowing (only if changing the size of the window frame)
· Fireplace installation
· Demolition of an existing structure
· Decks
· Finishing off a roughed-in bathroom
· Finishing off a basement, which involves constructing walls.
· Installation of a bedroom egress exit window.
· Some larger excavation projects
· Moving a building in or out
· Electrical work must have a permit from the State Board of Electricity
· Plumbing work also requires a separate permit

A permit may not be needed for . . .

· Any one-story detached accessory building used as tool or storage shed, playhouse, and similar uses,
provided the projected roof area does not exceed
120 square feet
· Re-siding and re-roofing
· Fences not over 6-feet high
· Movable cases, counters, and partitions not over 5'9" in height
· Retaining walls which are not over 4' in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall
· Water tanks supported directly upon grade if the capacity doesn't exceed 50,000 gallons, and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2-to-1
· Platforms, walks, and driveways not more than 30 inches above grade and not over any basement or story below
· Painting, wall-papering, and similar finish work
· Temporary motion picture, television, and theater stage sets and scenery
· Window awnings supported by an exterior wall
· Decks less than 30 inches above grade which are not attached to a structure

Sample permit fee schedule
This is a sample building permit fee schedule set by the State of Minnesota. Individual cities are similar to this, but may vary. Contact each city directly for individual requirements.

Estimated cost of project Fee
$1 to $500 $10
$501 to $2,000 $10 for the first $500, plus $1.50 for each additional $100 or fraction thereof, to and including $2,000.
$2,001 to $25,000 $32.50 for the first $2,000 plus $6 for each additional $1,000 or fraction thereof, to and including $25,000.
$25,001 to $50,000 $170.50 for the first $25,000 plus $4.50 for each additional $1,000 or fraction thereof, to and including $50,000.
$50,001 to $100,000 $283 for the first $50,000 plus $3 for each additional $1,000 or
fraction thereof, to and including $100,000.
$100,000 and up $433 for the first $100,000 plus $2.50 for each additional $1,000 or fraction thereof.