Frequently asked questions regarding Building Permits

The following questions are ones that we receive frequently and provide the most information on when a permit is required and dealing with contractors.

When is a permit required?

A permit is required before beginning any of the following work:

  • Constructing, enlarging, altering, repairing, or demolishing a building or structure including decks, porches, lean-tos, etc.
  • Changing the use of a building when the new use requires a greater degree of structural strength, fire protection, exit facilities, ventilation or sanitary provisions
  • Installing or altering any equipment which is regulated by the building code
  • Removing or disturbing any asbestos containing materials during demolition, alteration, renovation of or additions to buildings or structures


  • Finishing an unfinished attic, basement or a room over garage
  • Adding or replacement of a deck
  • Replacement of water or sewer lines
  • Installation of a swimming pool either above or inground when more than 24 inches deep
  • Installation of new electrical equipment or wiring
  • Installation of gas fired appliances such as heaters or fireplace logsets
  • Building a detached garage or storage building when the area exceeds 256 square feet

When is a building permit not required?

Generally, a permit is not required when the work is of a minor nature or constitutes general repairs such as:

  • Replacing plumbing fixtures when alterations are not necessary to the supply or drainage piping
  • Replacement of electrical fixtures when no new wiring or circuits are necessary
  • Painting
  • Replacement of cabinets and counter tops
  • Pouring concrete patios or driveways at grade level
  • Replacement of roofing materials on a single family dwelling

What are the permit fees?

  • Permit fees are based on the square footage of the building or structure for new construction.
  • Electrical permit fees are determined by the service size in amperage.
  • Mechanical permit fees are determined by valuation.
  • Plumbing permits are determined by the number of bathrooms if residential or fixtures if commercial.

These fees can be reviewed on the Permit Fees page.

Who may apply for a permit?

The building or property owner, lessee or agent of either of these may apply for the permit. Additionally, a Virginia registered architect or engineer, a licensed contractor or subcontractor or their designated employee or agent employed in connection with the project may obtain the permits. Engineers, architects, contractor, or subcontractors are required to provide evidence they are properly licensed or registered by the Commonwealth prior to obtaining permits.

May I obtain permits over the phone or by mail?

Generally, permits can be issued by mail, in person or via email at You may call the Central Permitting and request a permit application or they can be downloaded from this site. Once the application is completed, just return it either with a check by mail or with credit card payment if by email. This is for trades permits that do not require plan review only.

May someone else obtain a permit for me?

Yes, as stated above, certain professionals employed in connection with the project may obtain permits. Additionally, the owner may have a designated agent obtain permits for them. An agent is anyone the owner has given authority to act on his or her behalf. An agent must submit a written notarized document from the owner designating them as agent prior to obtaining permits.

Should I purchase the permit or require the contractor purchase it?

In all instances the contractor should be required to obtain the permit as part of the contract. The permit holder is responsible for ensuring the work meets the requirements of the building code. If the owner obtains the permit for the contractor, the contractor cannot be held responsible for complying with the code. If you are dealing with a reputable contractor they should not have a problem obtaining the permit. It is usually the unlicensed contractor who requests the owner obtain the permit. This is a sure sign for you to consider another contractor.

How would I know if a contractor is licensed?

Virginia law requires all contractors to include their license number on all documents to include contracts, proposals, bid forms and advertising. It would always be prudent to ask to see a copy of the license before signing any contract. Once you have the number you can confirm the license by calling the State Board for Contractors in Richmond at (804) 367-8511. Additionally, you can check their information at the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation website at

How long is the permit valid?

Every permit issued shall become invalid unless the work authorized by such permit is commenced within 180 days after its issuance, or if the work authorized by such permit is suspended or abandoned for a period of 180 days after the time the work is commenced. The Director of Inspections is authorized to grant, in writing, one or more extensions of time, for periods not more then 180 days each. The extension shall be requested in writing and justifiable cause demonstrated.

May a permit be voided?

The Director of Inspection may void permits when false or fraudulent information has been provided to obtain the permit. Otherwise, the permit may be suspended as discussed above or cancelled by the permit holder.

Can I get a refund on the permit if I decide not to do the project?

The permit holder can cancel a permit anytime prior to completion of the project. Upon cancellation a refund for the portion of the work not completed can be requested. Generally, refunds will be issued minus the amount of work completed and an administrative fee to cover the cost of processing the refund.

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