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Is it okay for an electrical panel to be hidden behind a hinged mirror in a basement bathroom? The answer is obviously no but this is just one of the issues I've come across when renovations are completed without proper permits or inspections.

It may seem like a hassle to apply and get all the right permits for your renovation, but doing things the right way can save you from losing money down the road. Renovations can be complicated enough without having to consider all the permits - and permissions - you might need. A major kitchen renovation could mean living with your fridge in your dining room and being limited to what you can prepare on a hot plate or in a microwave. It might also mean not being able to remain in your house at all during the reno and having to relocate to other accommodations temporarily. Changing your flooring likely requires furniture to be moved out of the spaces they occupy. A new deck will mean people coming in and out of your yard for days or even weeks.

As someone who has undergone and experienced many home renovation projects first-hand in my own home and cottage, I understand the urge to get things done so you can get on with your life. As a real estate agent, I have also seen, first-hand, some of the perils of completing renovations without the proper permits.

The permitting process can be overwhelming, especially if you do not know where to start. Although generally the same, municipalities have different permitting processes and zoning by-laws are specific to each community. Provincial guidelines provide the building codes to be adhered to. If your home is near a conservation space, you'll need to check with with that conservation authority for their requirements and restrictions. The list of authorities to check with can be long, but it's very important to be aware of any potential by-laws, encumbrances or obstacles that might stop or slow down your renovation. 

Without obtaining the proper permits where required, you risk the potential of having to tear everything out and start over again - or put things back to their original state. When you are ready to sell your home, non-permitted renovations may hold up the sale, or worse, cause the sale to fall through entirely.

If you live in a condominium, whether condo apartment, townhouse or detached home, be sure to check with the condominium property manager or board of directors and review the condo by-laws to determine what is allowed and what permissions are required. The condo board will likely need to see the plans for your renovations to ensure all is adhering to their rules and there will be no breach in the agreement with their insurance providers. If you proceed without proper permits, you may be required to remove your improvements and restore the dwelling to it's original state.

A sample of some of the permits and reports you may require:

Electrical - for lighting, changes in type or location of wiring and perhaps the addition of new appliances

Plumbing - for moving or replacing water lines in or around the home

Structural - for moving or removing load bearing walls, building decks or additions

Engineering report - for record of plans, drawings and proper assessment of air flow for changes to the HVAC system.

Conversely, if you are purchasing a home that has undergone some renovations, you should ask whether permits were secured and proof of inspections. it's best to know what you are walking into should you decide to purchase a home that has been renovated without the proper permits and inspections. 

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