You love the listing that your broker just showed you. Except you’ll need to get rid of that ugly carpet in the master bedroom. And you’ll have to break down a few interior walls to create a better flow. Also, while you’re at it, you should probably tear up that old tree in the backyard. Maybe replace the fence, redo the siding, and add a new paved area to the back, while you’re at it.

Easy, right?

Here in the Chicagoland area, there are a plethora of housing types available on the market, at any given time. In Chicago, you might find gorgeous old Victorian homes dating back to the 1800s, standing proudly alongside two-flats from the 1930s and brand new constructions. In a city with such a diverse housing stock, plenty of people look at a home as an opportunity to make their mark, and truly create the space that they’ve always dreamed of owning.

But with that being said, it’s also important to remember that the “Windy City” got its name because of City Hall, and not that Lake Michigan breeze. In other words? There are a lot of approvals and oversight (or, read less charitably, “red tape”)  required for many home projects and development opportunities in Chicagoland.

As the city puts in on its official “Building” page:

“Building permits help to ensure construction work complies with the minimum standards of safety established by the Chicago Building Code in order to protect public health, safety, and welfare. A building permit is required before beginning most construction, demolition, and repair work.”

Now, it’s also important to keep in mind that there are many different types of permits required by the city, for many different types of projects. For instance, the permits required for home repairs are, of course, going to be different than the permits needed to construct a brand new skyscraper downtown. The permits necessary to rework plumbing or electrical systems are different than the permits you may need to erect a temporary tent or structure. In many cases, homeowners will be able to use what the city calls the “Easy Permit Process” for more minor work (e.g., projects not requiring architectural plans or serious demolition). There are also special permits, waivers, and even incentive programs designed for green projects, or to assist seniors with building projects.  

And with that in mind, it should also be noted that not all projects will necessarily require permits. It depends on the scope of the work, and the structures and systems in your home that will be impacted.

Courtesy of information provided by the City of Chicago, let’s dig into some common examples of projects that do and do not typically require building permits.

What Types of Projects Typically Require Permits?

Here are a few common examples of building projects in Chicago that will require one or more permits. Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive or complete:

  • Creating an addition (such as an additional room, upper floor, or expansion)
  • Finishing or renovating an attic
  • Finishing or renovating a basement
  • Boiler replacement/installation
  • Chimney replacement/installation
  • Conversion of units (e.g., converting a two-flat into a single-family)
  • Building or replacing an outdoor deck or porch
  • Demolishing a shed, garage, or entire home
  • Installing a driveway
  • Altering and adding electrical, furnace, hot water/plumbing systems
  • Adding a fence taller than 5 feet
  • Building an attached or detached garage
  • Masonry work
  • New construction projects (including homes, high-rises, retail, etc.)

What Types of Projects Do Not Typically Require Permits?

What types of repair and replacement projects do not typically require permits? Here are a few common examples – again, this list is only indicative, and not exhaustive:

  • Replacing or adding minor interior finishes (carpet, hardwood and tile floors, paint and wallpaper, etc.)
  • Replacing interior ceiling tiles
  • Replacing or adding cabinetry and fixtures (as long as they do not interfere with electrical and/or plumbing connections)
  • Adding an exterior walkway or patio (at grade)
  • Replacing windows and doors of the same shape and size
  • Adding a fence less than 5 feet in height to private property

A Few Other Things to Keep in Mind

For both permitted and non-permitted projects, keep  in mind that there are many different extenuating factors that may come into play and affect your repair, replacement, demolition, or construction. For example? Historic properties may be designated as “landmarks,” limiting the type of work that you can do in or around the home. Similarly, homes may be located in “landmark districts,” where properties must all be uniform to a degree.

Again, many standard projects will fall under the Easy Permit process (more information on that, here). For more substantial projects, an architect or expediter will likely need to submit for a  Standard Plan Review, which Manny Ramos of City Bureau describes as:

“…a process for more substantial renovations like converting a single-family home to a multi-unit property or a complete gut rehab. This is completed online, and the city provides applicants with a Project Manager to assure everything remains compliant with city ordinances. The plans must be submitted by an architect or expeditor, and property owners should make sure all of their contact information is correct so they can receive updates. All drawings and floor plans should be submitted along with the necessary applications for a project manager to review.”

Bear in mind, too, that it’s crucial to wait for permits to be approved before starting a project. The city can issue fines if you “jump the gun” and start building without proper documentation and paperwork in place.

It Takes a Team to Move Your Chicago Real Estate Project Forward

There are a lot of moving parts that go into real estate transactions and property development in Chicago. Whether you’re a new owner looking to create your dream home or a developer looking to build or convert or build a residential property, it’s important to have a team around you that knows the ins and outs of the process, and can help get your project off the ground and moving forward, on the timeline that works for you.

Often enough, that’s going to mean having an experienced, professional real estate attorney on your side. For families and developers alike, an attorney is an invaluable partner.

The reality is that, when it comes to real estate, the way your paperwork is put together can significantly affect your long-term financial goals. It’s essential to get the right papers in the right places, addressed by the right people, at the right times, in order to move your project toward the finish line. A knowledgeable attorney can help you get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed correctly, helping you reach your real estate goals as quickly and as smoothly as humanly possible, making it easier to work with the zoning boards, historical commissions, licensing boards, easement granters, and more.

That’s where the Gunderson Law Firm can help. Our attorneys and staff possess unparalleled expertise and insight into real estate law in our area, reinforced by years of experience and long-term connections throughout Chicago’s real estate, finance, title, and insurance industries. Have any questions about the rules or process behind buying, selling, or developing in Chicagoland? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line to get the conversation started.