Ask Roberta

By Roberta Kleinman, BAPA Property Preservation Coordinator

Q: Are there circumstances when it is unnecessary to apply for a building permit before undertaking alterations to my Chicago single-family residence?

A: It all depends on the type of alterations you plan to make. No permit is required for relatively uncomplicated projects that do not involve, for example, structural changes to a residential property, or a change to the total amount of conditioned square footage available to the home’s residents (i.e., the amount of heated or air conditioned space,) or a change that would constitute a major expansion of the property’s existing electrical or plumbing systems. Some projects that would not require a permit would therefore include repairs to, or replacement of,

Interior finishes such as wall-to-wall carpeting, hardwood flooring, tile, paint and wallpaper;

Cabinetry and furniture without electrical and plumbing connections;

Non-fire rated in-kind doors/windows (i.e., replaced with similar item of same size at same location);

Playground equipment;

Most types of walkways and patios at ground level;

Fences five feet high or less, not including chain link and masonry fences;

Many types of common non-structural exterior finishes when used on one to three story residential buildings (subject to various exceptions);

Shingle roofing with a slope of 5-in-12 or steeper;

Hot water heaters, boilers, furnaces and air conditioner condensers;

Toilets, sinks, faucets and bathtubs;

Interior stairs in same location as a previous set of stairs within the dwelling unit;

Low voltage wiring, excluding wiring for fire alarm systems;

Enclosed sheds with a maximum area of 70 square feet (subject to setback and other restrictions).

A more extensive list of projects that do not require a building permit, with relevant exceptions, is set forth at

NotReq.pdf. where one may also find the same type of information as it applies to multi-unit residential and mixed-use buildings.

The information above does not apply to properties in a landmark district, or parcels of land upon which a landmark building is located. Those properties have their own separate restrictions and regulations.

If in doubt whether a particular home improvement project will require a building permit, and if so, whether a so-called Standard Plan Review permit application would be required or an Easy Permit application would suffice, it is always a good practice to contact the Building Department by calling 311 and asking to be transferred to the right departmental personnel, or by calling the Building Department directly at 312-744-3449.

Additionally, an extensive Guide to Permits can be found at

(Disclaimer: Be advised that the author of this article is not a licensed attorney. The information in this article is general in nature and is not intended to, and should not, be relied upon by the reader as personal legal advice or a legal opinion concerning your particular situation. The information also may not necessarily reflect the most current statutory or municipal code developments. Always seek professional assistance from qualified legal and other relevant professionals when considering making alterations to your residential property.)

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