From the Forum – Do ANY contractors actually pull DC building permits?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

Do ANY contractors actually pull DC building permits?

“I’m trying to excavate part of my backyard to create a driveway… and all the contractors (DC & VA) say that I don’t need one. Only for building construction, not to take away yard.

It’s obviously not true. I’m now sending the links and printing the main form for them. They say, if there are any problems that it’s on them, not me. Also, not true.

I’m actually having trouble finding one that knows how to pull permits… and/or knows/follows the rules. It looks like I’m going to have to pull the permits, but that requires drawings and other headaches, plus 1-2 months processing.

Anyone have advice? Anyone have similar problems?”

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28 Comment

  • actually it is much, much easier for you to pull permits than a contractor. there is a special homeowners service desk. With amateur drawings you can probably get a permit done in an afternoon unless the project is super complicated.

  • I have had nothing but great sucess with Angie’s List. Despite what many will say here, vendors do not pay for better reivews or placement – that is a just not ture.

    We have found 6 contractors in the last 3 years with 100% satisfaction, all found in Angie’s List – and they all pulled their own permits – where needed. For $80 a year that was well worth I think.

    Good luck.

    • vendors DO post their own fake reviews of themselves however.

    • 1st, I concur, with the comment on Angie’s List. Everyone I have used through Angie’s list pulled permits (or was prepared to do so).

      2nd, I used to issue permits in another jurisdiction. In my experience both as a reviewer and as an applicant, permits are generally easy to receive as a homeowner. At least in my experience, homeowners are not viewed as professionals, and staff were encouraged to work with a homeowner applicant to get a compliant application submitted.

      Contractors on the other hand were expected to be professionals that know the requirements. A failing application was denied with no explanation given beyond the legal requirement.

      3rd, I have often requested a quote from an Angie’s List vendor and then negotiated a lower priced based on providing the permit myself.

      • I usually focus on the bad reviews. Those usually give you a good idea of what kind of people you’re dealing with. For good contractors, the bad reviews are usually minimal our non-existent. The bad reviews they do get are usually more indicative of the customer’s own issues.

        • This. Sometimes a contractor will have a bunch of good reviews for smaller projects and then there will be one egregiously awful review that is clearly not just the reviewer being a pain. Definitely pay attention to the bad reviews because there are a lot of contractors who have tons of good ones.

          • there are not a lot of contractors out there that have availability, unfortunately. Expect a less than 50% hit rate on actually getting through to a bid on any job.

          • ^ So true. I contacted probably about 20 companies to bid out my kitchen and got responses from about half of those. Of those 10, I only really liked one. It’s pretty dismal out there.

    • i’ve never used angie’s list but my sister found a contractor to redo her kitchen, she was somewhat unhappy with his work and his professionalism, and he offered to knock some money off of the fee if she promised to not leave a bad review of him.

  • pablo .raw

    At DCRA there’s a homeowner’s center (I think that’s the name). The person there was really nice last time I was there and makes things easy for you. I advise you do it yourself, you can pay right there and get your permit the same day.

  • ” It looks like I’m going to have to pull the permits, but that requires drawings and other headaches, plus 1-2 months processing.”

    This is why contractors don’t pull permits. That and they know the inspections in this city for unpermitted work are so inconsistent that is pays just to ignore it. It seems that if you HAVE a permit and are caught doing something outside scope , they can slap you with a stop work order ON THE EXISTING PERMIT. No permit? City doesn’t even know about it! Carry on.

  • There are certainly contractors that will pull permits, but it does take a long time (took mine a month to do what seemed like a simple permit) and they will obviously charge you for their time.

    If contractors won’t do things legally, keep looking.

  • Or you can hire a permit expediter, which we did when we had our sunporch rebuilt.

  • Find a contractor who will pull the permits. Not because you can’t, but because you don’t want a contractor who is comfortable with just ignoring that sort of thing, unless you personally have significant construction management experience and are ready, willing, and able to do other aspects of the contractors’ job that they also neglect besides this one.

    Many of the serious contractors that have their sh!t together insist upon pulling the permit themselves and won’t even allow their customer to do it, because 1.) they know how to do it, and 2.) they don’t want their scheduled job to be delayed because their customer was not able to get the correct permits in a timely manner.

    If you know exactly what work you want done, can produce the drawings and complete the relevant forms yourself, and have time to get the permit before you even hire the contractor, then by all means go for it, and the contractor should charge you less since they won’t have to spend their time doing this. However, I wouldn’t want to hire somebody who was willing to perform the work without a permit in the case when a permit was required, even if I did already have the permit.

  • Let’s get a couple six packs and all head over to the posters house to hammer this out in a day. No permits, no one knows and we all bond!

  • We used a contractor out of MD for our retaining wall, and for an extra fee he took care of getting all the permits (public space permit and also plans approval since our wall is above 4 ft), though we were responsible for the post project follow up to get back our deposits. It was not a quick process, but it beat us having to take time off work to sit at DCRA having no idea what we were doing. We used Stanley with Precision Renovation and Construction, and he was a pleasure to deal with and the work was great too.

  • Can anyone comment on the veracity of OP’s statement that it is “obviously not true” that he doesn’t need a permit to do the work he’s describing. I have no firsthand knowledge, and it seems like digging out a backyard can be potentially dangerous depending on the scope of the work and how it’s done. On the other hand, I can’t find anything on the DC gov’t website that says you do need a permit for this kind of work. Anyone know if this work actually needs a permit in the first place?

    • I believe the contractors are right on this one. The project does not require building a structure and therefore does not require a permit. It’s really clear on the DCRA’s website what requires a permit and what does not. I would check, but it’s not in my back yard…

  • I am a landscape designer and contractor here in DC. I think the string got off track from the original post. This person is doing work on their landscape. I have never pulled permits that take a month let alone more than a day (if you know what you are doing). Yes you can do it yourself but then you are more than likely going to be there a few days. It all depends on how much your time is worth. 100% of our clients have had us get their permits at a rate of $25 per hour. Now what no one is mentioning here is the issue with DOT (Dept. of Transportation) Public Space Permits. The City essentially owns the outdoor space from your front door to the street. This was made law in case the city ever had to widen roads/sidewalks in the future (eminent domain). Due to this, DC slaps everyone doing any type of work on their front facade with this permit which requires a deposit. That deposit can and will likely run sometimes thousands of dollars, even for a small project such as refacing your front with flagstone/brick etc. In our company, the client needs to pay this deposit and it will be returned to them once the project is finished and DC has inspected the site. There is a list on the DCRA site that will tell you if the work you are doing can be done with a Post Card Permit which means you can do the whole process online. For example, if you are building a wood fence in your back yard, you can get the PCPermit. Best of luck.

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