Permitting: Who is Responsible?

It’s time to remodel your home, and you’ve locked in your designer and your contractor. You’ve done your homework and provided them with everything you need. Now, who does the permitting and what does this look like?

Electrical and Plumbing permits are typically handled by the Electrician and the Plumber. Phew, that’s off your plate. Additional permits are technically the responsibility of… you. Woah, wait, what? It seems silly to put this in the hands of the owner, but in the end, the home and what happens to it is the liability of the owner. If permits aren’t pulled, the owner is the one held responsible. Let’s add some really good twists to this because after several of my go-to contractors let me know that they are washing their hands of the permit application process, I decided to do some research.

According to the BBB in Alabama (not King County):

By pulling the permit at the request of the company you’ve hired:

1. Legallly, you are considered to be the contractor and are required to ‘materially supervise the work done’ . It’s against the law to do this and compensate someone else to supervise the project for you. In this case, the person you’ve hired for the job now becomes your sub-contractor.

2. You are liable for any accidents on the job - and accidents often happen. Examples include crew injuries, damage of adjoining properties, gas and water line breaks, etc. This can cost you a great deal of money in hospital bills and repairs of property damage. Properly licensed contractors are insured to cover incidents like these, something that is confirmed the Alabama Homebuilder’s Licensure Board before a license is issued. Normal homeowner’s insurance does not cover accidents or work done by an unlicensed contractor.

3. You are responsible for any shoddy workmanship that does not meet building codes and will ultimately have to pay to bring your home up to code again. This can cost 100’s to 1000’s of dollars.  Properly licensed builders go through stringent vetting by the AL-HBLB to demonstrate competence, experience, and financial stability.

When it come times to sell your home, you may have difficulty if it is not up to code. Since the majority of prospective homebuyers who go through a real estate agency will have a home inspected before purchase, building code violations will be uncovered.

The bottom line: Never pull a permit yourself unless you plan to oversee the whole construction project and are willing to assume full liability. If you are asked to pull a permit by someone you’ve hired, beware!

Of course, since this was written for Alabama, it doesn’t make sense for us to get nervous about this in King County. On further research, I found a document from the City of Shoreline Planning & Community Development that states, “It is the responsibility of the property owner to make sure all proper permits are obtained. However, contractors licensed by the State of Washington or your agent can obtain the permits on your behalf.”

On further searching, LNI states:

Protect Yourself With Permits

Your contractor should obtain all the necessary permits. If you do the work yourself, you would need to check which permits are required and obtain them if necessary.

-Building permits: Contact your local county or city building department.

-Electrical permits:

-Manufactured homes permits: L&I must approve plans and inspect both new and ‘altered’ manufactured/factoryassembled homes and recreational vehicles for safety. Call your local L&I office or go to

-Elevator permits for any stair-lifter, pool lifting device or other conveyance. For information, call L&I’s Elevator Program: 360-902-6130.

It seems the most relevant sources recommend that the contractor apply for permits, right? But, since more and more contractors are uninterested in doing this, does this means it falls into the owner’s hands? If so, are the owners liable for work on the job site?

I took this a step further and made an appointment to speak with a permitting official to clear all this up. The official I spoke with told me that the architects are typically the ones applying for permits and this makes the most sense because sometimes design-related items need adjusting for approval. It also familiarizes the architect/designer with the permitting process and allows them to assemble the drawings appropriately. Makes sense, right? But, what about all this liability? Well, the official I spoke with stated that there is a space on the application to insert the GC license #. This gives them liability as the GC, not the applicant. If that space is left blank, the owner is ultimately responsible. The applicant is responsible only for the application fees.

I won’t lie, the fact that what is in writing in many places differs from what was stated to me, and that is disconcerting. However, we at Waldron Designs are working to break into the permitting process by creating permitting sets and moving them through the application process. On larger projects, we are currently working with a trusted architect who has extensive permitting experience and turning our drawings over to her for the application process. Either way, we have your project in safe hands! Contact me now to find out more.

In our next post, we plan to cover the difference between permit drawings and construction drawings, so stay tuned! Better yet, sign up for our newsletter to get all our blog posts compiled and sent on a monthly basis!