Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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You may need a building permit from your local housing or construction authority, or a variance from the local zoning laws, to make a home conversion. Generally, a simple conversion of a basement or garage into a living room, game room, or other usable space will not require a permit or draw the attention of local housing authorities. However, special rules may govern your conversion to comply with the local housing code. Any necessary municipality requirements depend on the nature and extent of the changes you intend to make.

Conversion That Requires Local Agency Approval

Consult the local housing law if your home change will affect occupancy by an additional room to your home, either to increase your family size or to rent out for a profit. In most cities, the housing authority requires certain features for a space or room to be fit for human occupancy. For example, the city may require bedrooms to have at least one window with access to the outside in the event of a fire or other threat that prevents occupants from leaving through the door. Additionally, if you intend to rent the room for a profit, you will need to file paperwork with the local rental housing authority, be familiar with landlord and tenant law, and pass inspections. If the proposed redesign project involves structurally altering your home or undertaking large projects to run pipes or rewire the interior of the house, check your local housing and construction law. If you intend to add a level to your home, build a new deck, a guesthouse, or otherwise make any significant change to your home or property, you will probably need city approval and building permits and file legally required paperwork.

Violating City Codes and Regulations

The consequences of neglecting the local housing code and undertaking significant changes without the necessary permits can be costly and significant. A city inspector may issue a stop work order on your home, preventing you from finishing the project until you are granted a hearing. The process can take several months, and may ultimately result in a substantial fine you will be required to pay to resume work. To avoid any negative consequences associated with making illegal changes, work with a local attorney familiar with the legal requirements of redesigning your home.