How to Find Permits on a House

How to Find Permits on a House

When buying a house or undertaking a major renovation project, it is crucial to ensure that all necessary permits have been obtained. Permits are legal authorizations that ensure construction or renovation work meets safety and building code requirements. They also provide assurance that the work has been inspected and approved by the appropriate authorities. Here are some steps to help you find permits on a house:

1. Start with the local building department: The first step is to contact your local building department or city hall. These authorities are responsible for issuing permits, so they will have records of any permits issued for the property you are interested in.

2. Provide property information: To assist the building department in locating permits, provide them with the property address, owner’s name, or parcel number. This information will help them narrow down their search and find the relevant permits.

3. Review online databases: Many cities have online databases where you can search for permits. These databases allow you to access records and find details about past and current permits. Check if your city has such a resource and search for the property you are interested in.

4. Visit the local library or historical society: Some older permits may not be available online. In such cases, visit the local library or historical society to access archives or records related to permits. They may have physical copies of permits issued in the past.

5. Consult with a real estate agent: If you are working with a real estate agent, they may have access to permit information through their networks. They can also guide you on how to find permits or provide contacts who can help in your search.

6. Hire a title search company: Title search companies specialize in researching property records, including permits. They can conduct a thorough search and provide you with a comprehensive report detailing any permits obtained for the property.

7. Check for visible permits onsite: During a property visit, keep an eye out for any visible permits or inspection certificates. These are typically posted on windows or doors and provide evidence that the necessary permits were obtained.

8. Request a seller’s disclosure: Before finalizing a purchase, request a seller’s disclosure form. This document requires the seller to disclose any known information about the property, including permits obtained during their ownership.


1. How long do permits stay on record?
Permits are typically kept on record for a specific period, which varies by jurisdiction. In some cases, records are maintained indefinitely, while others may retain them for a certain number of years.

2. Can I proceed with a purchase if permits are not found?
It is advisable to proceed with caution if permits cannot be found, as this may indicate unauthorized work. Consult with a professional, such as a real estate attorney or inspector, to assess any potential risks.

3. What happens if work was done without permits?
If work was done without permits, it may result in fines, penalties, or even a requirement to undo the work. It is important to rectify any permit issues before proceeding with a purchase or renovation.

4. Can I apply for permits retrospectively?
In some cases, it may be possible to apply for permits retrospectively. However, this process varies by jurisdiction, and it is recommended to consult with the local building department for guidance.

5. How long does it take to obtain permits?
Permit processing times vary depending on the complexity of the project and the workload of the building department. It is advisable to start the permit application process well in advance to avoid delays.

6. Do all renovations require permits?
The permit requirements vary by jurisdiction and the scope of the renovation. Generally, major structural changes, electrical and plumbing work, and additions require permits.

7. Can I check permits for neighboring properties?
Typically, you can only access permit records for the property you are interested in. However, some jurisdictions may allow you to obtain limited information about neighboring properties.

8. Who is responsible for obtaining permits, the buyer or seller?
The responsibility for obtaining permits typically falls on the property owner, which would be the seller at the time of the sale. However, it is crucial for both parties to ensure that the necessary permits are in order.