Are you confused about what you need in order to start a demolition project? In most cases, you’re going to need a demolition permit.

It’s best to find out before starting the project whether the permit is something you’ll need to obtain. Fortunately, this article covers everything you need to know about demolition permits.

Let’s get started with what a demolition permit is in the first place… 

Related: Zoning Permit

What is a demolition permit?

A demolition permit is a legal document that provides you with the right to demolish any structure that requires a building permit to construct. But just because a building permit was not acquired before construction does not mean you don’t need a demolition permit. If the structure was improperly built without obtaining a permit, you still have to get a permit to demolish it.

If you’re working on more than one structure, you have to get a separate demolition permit for each one that requires demolition. A shed and detached garage on the same property, for instance, each requires their own demolition permit. So in that case, you would need to demolition permits.

Depending on the area where you will be doing the demolition, various code provisions will specify permit requirements and the review process.

When exactly do you need a demolition permit?

You need a demolition permit when:

  • A primary structure or structures will be razed or removed from a lot.
  • Any accessory structures with utility systems, mechanical systems, hazardous materials, or a basement-type foundation will be raised or removed from a lot.
  • A building that is having an addition renovation requires a substantial amount of demolition. 

Special considerations

Smaller residential structures that include four or fewer dwelling units typically require additional measures, including specific site control measures and potentially added inspections. You’ll also need an erosion control inspection for each permit you are issued. You will also need a tree preservation inspection prior to any demolition work if you are preserving trees on the site.

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What are the requirements of getting a demolition permit?

In order to obtain a demolition permit you will need:

  • A completed permit application.
  • For many demolition projects, a grading plan—submitted and approved.
  • A successfully completed and inspected plumbing permit.
  • Depending on the municipality, a cash demolition escrow bond may be required to ensure the safe, sanitary, and secure completion of the demolition work. This bond is typically refundable at the end of demolition.

Related: Conditional Use Permit

Here are some other things to consider as you factor in the requirements of getting a demolition permit:

  • Determine whether the proposed work is a demolition or a major alteration.

    You need a demolition permit only if the project is in fact a demolition project.

    These two types of work are very different from each other a demolition is defined by the removal of all exterior walls above the foundation. You may need to check your local code provisions to determine the definition of the word “wall” and to check on how you can determine if all exterior walls have been removed.

    A major alteration, on the other hand, involves removing at least 50% of the exterior walls above the foundation. Again, check your local code provisions to figure out whether your project meets the criteria for a major alteration.

    Make note, however, that if at any point your major alteration project becomes a demolition project according to code provisions, then you are required to stop your project and obtain a demolition permit before continuing work.

  • Check for any ordinances that would require a demolition delay.

  • In many places, the city codes surrounding demolition projects require a demolition delay in certain circumstances. The delay is there to ensure time for appropriate notices to be mailed and emailed to the appropriate organizations, and in some cases for appropriate signs to be placed on the properties prior to the beginning of demolition activity.

    This is especially likely in the case of single-family residential units.

  • Check for appropriate site control measures that must be implemented.

  • Many residential structures, or dwelling units, as well as their accessory structures, require site control measures for demolitions. These may include an asbestos survey, a demolition plan, documentation regarding lead paint certifications, documentation regarding certification for asbestos removal, removing exterior painted surfaces before mechanical demolition, implementing dust suppression measures mechanical demolition, agreements that demolition activities will be suspended if winds exceed a certain speed, and plans for demolition debris to be properly contained and covered on-site.

    Related: 10 Best Floor Plan Software of 2019

  • Check for any deconstruction ordinance requirements.

  • Many single-family dwelling structures, such as houses and duplexes, require a deconstruction ordinance if they meet certain criteria. This is often in the case that the structure is considered a historic building.

    In the case that the building is a historic resource, you may be required to have a certified deconstruction contractor safely disassemble the house in order to salvage valuable materials that can be reused. Additional permits for historic deconstruction will likely be required.

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  • Determine whether the soil will need to be compacted after demolition.

  • After demolition, the site must be restored to a condition that is suitable for new construction. In some cases this means replacing the soil and then compacting it. Compacting is more likely to be necessary if the demolished building had a basement or foundation that resulted in the need for a large replacement fill.

    If this is the case, you will also need a soils special inspection, which must be completed by an independent agency. However, in some cases when a replacement structure is being constructed at the same time and the basement excavation will be reused, you may be able to disregard the compacted fill requirements if you sign an agreement that the excavation will get filled if the planned new construction does not occur.

  • Check whether a sewer cap is required, or if there are any other utilities requirements.

  • Different cities have different provisions regarding utilities. If a house that is being demolished is served by the city sewer, it may require a sewer To be placed during demolition. If the sanitary system was a septic tank or cesspool, you will likely need an inspection and decommissioning permit for the abandonment of the system.

  • Make sure you get an intent to demolish form signed by all the property owners.

  • Unless you are in fact the owner listed on the deed of the property, you’ll need to have this taken care of before any demolition work begins. If the property has multiple owners, you’ll need to make sure that the form is signed by each of them.

  • Check the tree code requirements for the area

  • Before you can be issued a demolition permit, you will often need to provide tree preservation information. Those requirements will need to be completed within a certain amount of time before demolition, during the demolition delay period.

    Most municipalities will not approve the demolition permit until tree code requirements are met. This is important to know because not meeting tree code requirements could result in a delay in getting the permit issued.

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    You do not need a demolition permit when:

    • Removing small sheds, small garages, or other minor accessory structures that do not contain utilities with separate connections or basement-type foundations.
    • Removing decks, porches, and other similar appendages to structures where the intent is to rebuild after removal.
    • Performing interior demolition to a structure or structures, where the intent is to change or renovate the structure.

    Demolition grading plan requirements:

    As mentioned in the requirements for obtaining a demolition permit, a grading plan is required for many projects. The grading plan will need to be submitted for review, and will likely need to include, at the least, the following items:

    Related: Site Plan, Everything You Need To Know In 2019

    • The property address and a legal description of the structure and property.
    • Information regarding existing typography and boundaries.
    • A description of basements or foundation locations that will be removed or filled.
    • The proposed contours and elevations.
    • Limits regarding the clearing and grading.
    • A plan for control measures regarding erosion and sediment.
    • And any other notes or items deemed necessary for demolition.

    This is not a complete list of grading plan requirements. Always check with the municipality where you will be completing the demolition.

    To summarize:

    1. A demolition permit is necessary to completely raze or remove a structure down to the foundation in most municipalities.
    2. You need a separate permit for each structure to be demolished.
    3. You fill out a permit application in order to start the process of obtaining the demolition permit.
    4. You will likely need to submit a demolition grading plan.
    5. You need to acquire plumbing permits for the demolition.
    6. Different types of structures will require various inspections and criteria to be met prior to being issued a demolition permit.
    7. Additional requirements may be present in the code provisions for various municipalities.

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    Question Answer
    What should I do if I encounter archaeological finds during the demolition process? If you discover archaeological artifacts during demolition, halt all work and report the findings to local authorities. Contact archaeological preservation organizations or the local historical society, following specific local protocols.
    How long does it typically take to obtain a demolition permit? The time to obtain a demolition permit varies by municipality and can range from a few days to several weeks. Factors influencing this include the project's complexity, application completeness, and local government processing times.
    Can I perform any demolition work while my permit application is being processed? No, you should not begin demolition until you have received the approved permit. Starting demolition without a permit can lead to legal penalties, including fines and possible project suspension.
    What are some common reasons for a demolition permit application to be denied? Reasons for permit denial may include incomplete applications, non-compliance with zoning laws, safety concerns, inadequate site control measures, or issues related to historic preservation.
    Are there any insurance requirements for conducting a demolition? Yes, liability insurance is typically required to cover potential damages or injuries during demolition. Requirements can vary, so check with your local municipality or consult a legal advisor.
    What happens if my demolition affects neighboring properties? If demolition causes damage to neighboring properties, you could be liable for repairs and damages. It is crucial to take appropriate safety measures and inform neighboring property owners about the project to mitigate risks.