Working Under Cover, On the Sly, Going Rogue . .

Are there problems when you do construction work before you get a permit?  The answer is always, “Yes!”  Sooner or later it will catch up with you.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

In December 2017, we were asked to help a property owner get a grading permit from the County of San Bernardino for a partially graded hillside property.  This scenic property had a great mountain view. Because the property was located within an earthquake fault zone, we performed a fault study and determined that the site could not be developed with a residential structure.

We worked with the county planning and engineering departments for several years to develop a grading plan that would satisfy the county’s requirements and would also provide a peaceful retreat for the client.    The work was finally approved by the county in August, 2020.   The approved improvements consist of a large deck, gazebo and a covered patio on the property.  

Obtaining county approval for the project was difficult in several ways. A partial cut already had been done.  In addition to the challenging geologic setting (requiring a fault study), the property was accessed from a mountain road that passed through several properties.  

The neighboring property owners were not in favor of the proposed development and filed several complaints to stop the project.  In addition, our client performed some of the grading before the permit was issued.  These issues caused several delays during the review and approval process, but we were able to straighten it all out and complete the project  

Working Without a Permit?

Our advice is, “Don’t even think about it.” For this property owner, we were in time to help them find their way to a happy ending.  Under different circumstances, you might not be as lucky. The major pitfalls of working without a permit typically fall into these five areas:

# 1 Fines: Cities and counties can make you pay big time for unpermitted work.  They also have the power to issue  liens, which will prevent any sale of the property without payment first.

#2 Permit Denied: You can not only be told “no, not now, not ever,” but then be asked to tear it all down and next return the property to the original state it was in prior to the work.

#3 Rework: You can also literally be asked to almost start over by undoing the work that’s done, apply for the permit, go through the approval process and then redo everything over again.

#4 Other Denials: How about “no” to a second mortgage for a home improvement loan, or “no” to a new construction loan, or “no” insurance,  “no” water, electric or gas utilities, etc.

#5 Lawsuits: Attorneys are successful when there is no defense for what you’ve done.


No matter whether it’s new construction, an addition or renovation, start by consulting a professional structural engineering firm.  At Helfrich-Associates, our decades of experience can save our clients both money and time.  We’re building code experts and can frequently streamline the permit process.  We’ll help you get your project right the first time without the nightmares that can occur when you go solo.

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