Building Permits and Home Improvements

building-permit2By: Victor Normand
Published: December 2013

So you have decided to do some home improvement work around your house. It’s great to envision the kind of upgrades you could do and at the same time, significantly raise the value of your home.  Maybe update the kitchen with a new granite countertop, under cabinet lighting and hard wood flooring. Finally take up that impractical wall to wall in the dining room.  You’ve got your plan; you’ve fixed your budget, now what?

You might want to do some or all of the work yourself. Maybe persuade some handy friends to lend their expertise?  Or maybe the more you look at the scope of the job; you begin to weigh the idea of hiring the help you need.  The more you get into what needs to be undertaken, the better some hired help begins to look.

Do you need a building permit for the work?  If that question does not readily come to mind, it should.  If your project only involves ordinary repairs such as painting, wallpapering, or replacing that old countertop, you are probably good to go.  But larger projects, such as building a deck or putting on an addition would require a building permit. As the homeowner, you could apply for one. But here’s the thing; you might not want to do it yourself.

For large projects, most homeowners may not understand what’s involved in properly    pulling together all that is required to complete a building permit. And even if you have the time and expertise to do the work, you’ll want to be mindful of the following.  Only by using the homeowner exemption, which is allowed under state law, all construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, removal or demolition of a building or structure in Massachusetts requires both a Licensed Construction Supervisor (LCS) and a registered Home Improvement Contractor (HIC).


There are strong consumer protection laws in Massachusetts for homeowners who do not get the work they contracted for, but only if a LCS and HIC are used on the project.  The Home Improvement Contractor Act will compensate consumers up to $10,000 for unpaid judgments against a contractor, but only if the building permits were applied for by a LCS and the work was done by a registered HIC.  The full requirement for access to this Guaranteed Fund as it is referred to include:

  • A written contract for the job
  • The work must be supervised by a Licensed Construction Supervisor
  •  The contractor must be registered with the state as a Home Improvement Contractor on the date the contract was signed
  • The property is located in Massachusetts
  • The property must be your primary residence
  • The contract must be for work to a preexisting owner-occupied residence with no more than 4 units
  • The Request for Arbitration, or other court action must be filed within 2 years of the contract date

No one likes to complicate a project more than necessary or add costs where they might be avoided.  Everyone has heard horror stories about projects that have gone very wrong.  Bear all this in mind as you progress with your improvement plans.  Before you actually begin construction, pay a visit to your local building inspector and have a talk about what you plan to do.

Along with some terrific resources that we can offer, below are some useful links to check out.

The Official Website of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security

Homeowners Q&A

Look-Up for Licensed Construction Supervisors

Look-Up for Registered Home Improvement Contractors

Building Permit Contact Information

Town Building Department Phone email
Acton Frank Ramsbottom 978-929-6633
Boxborough David Lindberg 978-264-1725
Concord John Ross Minty, Jr. 978 318-3280
Harvard Julie Doucet 978-456-4100
Littleton Roland J. Bernier 978-540-2420
Maynard Richard A. Asmann 978-897-1302
Stow Craig Martin. P.E. 978-897-2193