Got a Project? Get a Permit


By Liam Millerick 
BAPA Housing Program Coordinator 

With spring here and summer just around the corner, many homeowners may be looking at making some slight alterations to their homes. One big concern is deciding whether to obtain a permit.  

A safe rule is to contact the city’s Building Department and check. However, here is a helpful guide building permits.  

Obtaining a permit from the city, when required, is an important step and failing to do so can have costly consequences. Homeowners who start construction on a permit-required projects without first obtaining a permit face the city issuing a stop work order, which immediately haltall construction. Work can then only be restarted after obtaining the permit and paying a penalty of $1,000. In some cases, work that was illegally completed will be removed. If a homeowner continues to violate permit protocols, they may face a fine of $1,000 per day of violation, up to 100 hours of community service and imprisonment for up to 6 months.  

Navigating the world of city building permit requirements can be complicated, so let’s begin with an outline of what projects a typical homeowner may wish to complete that don’t require permits.  

  • Most interior projects, like carpeting, hardwood flooring, tiling, painting and wallpapering 
  • Cabinetry without an electrical component 
  • Replacing windows and doors, as long as they are the same size and in the same location as the original windows and doors 
  • Replacing plumbing features, as long as they are the same size and in the same location as the original features 
  • Replacing siding 
  • Replacing toilets, sinks, faucets and tubs 
  • Replacing up to 250 bricks. 
  • Shingle work for roofs with a slope of 5 in 12 inches or steeper 
  • Building non-brick or non-chain link fences, up to 5 feet tall. 
  • Building gazebos, up to 150 sq. ft., as long as they comply with all zoning and construction requirements. 
  • Building an enclosed shed, up to 70 sq. ft., as long as they comply with all zoning and construction requirements. (One enclosed shed allowed per lot.) 
  • Up to 1,000 sq. ft. of drywall, as long as there is no alteration to the structural, plumbing, electrical or ventilation systems.  
  • Porches less than 50 sq. ft., excluding the steps, with a maximum of six feet between the ground level and the floor of the porch.  

It’s important to note that some of these projects that don’t require permits are conditional on the property itself. If your home is a designated Chicago landmark or is located in a Chicago Landmark District, you must obtain permission from the city before you replace siding, replace doors and windows, build fences, build porches or replace bricks. This is to preserve the historical significance of the buildings. 

The Chicago Department of Buildings issues many different types of permits, depending on what type of work being done and the size of the project. The city has experts who can guide you through the permit process, which can be tricky to navigate on your own.  

Here is a quick list of common home improvement projects that need permits. 

  • Installing insulation 
  • Installing light fixtures 
  • Installing porches and decks larger than 50 sq. ft.  
  • Building a garage 
  • Installing a green roof, solar panels, skylights, a chimney, dormers, or fixing a roof with a slope less than 5 in 12 inches 
  • Moving windows or doors, moving or removing walls 
  • Installing more than 1,000 sq. ft. of drywall, installing a boiler, furnace, or hot water heater 
  • Installing electrical, ventilation, security, irrigation, or plumbing systems 
  • Finishing or renovating a basement or attic 
  • Home additions, gut rehabs or wrecking 
  • Installing stairs or non-brick or non-chain link fences over 5 feet tall 


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