The Permit Office
A tall, imposing structure stands amid suburban sprawl. Sunshine glances off the building's whitewashed bricks. A bird chirps in its landscaped entry. From a distance, it is an idyllic place. As one approaches, however, the facade of innocence fades, and through the windows may be discerned the octopus-like tendrils of a mindless beast. It oozes; it squirms; it squirts red ink! It is the bureaucratic monster known as, you guessed it, government.
DO I NEED A PERMIT?
If you consult the B-B PUD (your interface with the fearsome bureaucratic beast), the question of whether you need a permit will become academic. As you might expect, the B-B PUD has strict guidelines regarding which projects require a permit. Requirements vary by locality, but, typically, you can figure that anything you build that is larger than a matchbox will need a permit. In my town, for example, an ant farm requires submission of a plan detailing the type of pickle jar you will use, and there is an inspection to determine whether the hole spacing in the lid is adequate.
If you are adding on living space, you can be certain that local ordinances require a permit. However, simply because the government dictates a thing does not make it prudent or cost-effective. A really sneaky guy, who doesn't have a spouse who will rat on him, does not technically need a permit.
In fact, there are some excellent reasons not to get a permit. I put permits in the same category as blueprints. They are a matter of form rather than substance. They don't do anything but guarantee that you will have an inspector knocking on your door when you really don't want to see one. They also inform the property assessor of the increased value of your home so the county can squeeze a little more blood out of the ol' rutabaga.
In the end, there is only one important criterion in determining whether or not you should get a permit: How visible is your project from the road? If the B-B PUD doesn't know you are doing anything then they can't punish you for not getting a permit.
Just be ready to pay the price if they do catch you. In most states the penalty for not getting the necessary permits is severe. In California, I am told, a violation will garner more time in prison than a murder conviction. I don't suppose you would want to spend the remainder of your life in a cell next to Charles Manson.
As I have both a stool-pigeon wife and a highly visible project, I chose to get a permit. My wife tried to tell me that her ratting on me was a moral obligation and that permits have a purpose. She seems to think that permits and inspections force builders to adhere to safety standards. She doesn't like the idea of avoiding taxes either. How can I argue with someone who smiles so sweetly as she calls the city's Permit Avoidance Hotline?