How Do I Apply for a Roofing Permit?

Photo: Pedro J. Perez/

First of all, you get a gold star just for asking the question How do I apply for a roofing permit? This shows that you have at least some inclination to do things by the book, or you'd like to make sure your roofing contractor does the same. It also shows that you posses basic smarts: You want the job to be done right and not have any problems with your roofing warranty or homeowner's insurance. Or fines.

Even if you're tempted to sneak by without a permit, you probably recognize that, given the high visibility of rooftop work, this may not be the best project to gamble on. It's sort of like shoplifting in plain view of a security guard and hoping he sneezes right when you slip the goods under your shirt. Now that you've got your gold star, you can rest assured the permit process for roofing is one of the easier ones ... in most cases, anyway. Find out why.

Consult Your Local Building Authority

The short answer to the question How do I apply for a roofing permit? is the same for every homeowner and roofing contractor in the country: Visit the office of the local building authority. In most areas, this is the city's or county's building department, also known as the final word on everything construction-related (within its jurisdiction, that is).

Each building authority has its own rules, fees, inspection policies and permit process, and you can't know what you really need until you talk to your local authority. These days, most cities have websites with all the background info to get you started, so before you hop in the car, hop online to learn all the details. You may even be able to apply online.

Common Permit Requirements

With every building authority coming up with its own rules about permits, it's no surprise that the requirements are all over the map. Some require a set of plans to determine the level of approval, inspection and payment necessary; some require a permit but perform no inspections; and some have you complete a "certificate of responsibility" if you're doing the work yourself (that can't be a fun one to sign).

Permits are required for most new roofs, re-roofs and major roof repair jobs, but many cities don't require them for minor repairs or replacements of less than 100 square feet (one "square") of roofing area. Roofing permits for single-family homes often don't require a plan review, which may come with the additional benefit of an expedited permit, sort of like the EZ form for income taxes (those were the days).

The Turnkey Approach

If you haven't thought about this issue or you prefer to have nothing to do with it, you're a good candidate for the turnkey approach. That is: have a roofing contractor deal with all the permit stuff (on a major renovation job, the general contractor will likely get all the permits). This is very common, as most homeowners have no interest in roofing their homes, and even handy folks usually prefer to do their work from the ground. However, even if you want to do nothing more than write a check, it's a good idea to call the building department to learn about its permitting requirements. This is an easy way to make sure your contractor is going by the book, and if there's any dispute, you'll sound formidably informed (provided you're a good actor).

Don't Try to Get by without a Roofing Permit

If a permit is required for your project, don't use a contractor who tries to get by without one. In many areas, pros must be licensed and insured to get a permit, so that's 2 items checked off on your "must have" list for finding a good roofer. Also, most permits come with inspections of the work to be done. The inspector will check for at least a minimum quality of work, as well as specific requirements for the local climate, such as extra fasteners in high-wind regions. While an inspection won't guarantee top-rate work on the entire job, it could catch an unscrupulous or ill-informed contractor who's not doing things the right way. Same goes for homeowners doing the work themselves, who tend to fall well within the bounds of the "ill-informed" category.

Philip Schmidt writes for

Updated July 22, 2018.

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