By adding drywall you can transform your basement from a cold and dark place to a pleasant living space, living room, playroom, or as an extra room for guests.

Building permit depends on your state. Because in the States there are several zoning and development laws and every state has different regulations, maybe your state doesn’t require a building permit. Anyway, a building permit will help you with the insurance company in the future so it’s good to have one.

Here I will present to you the process of getting the permit, and the consequences if you finish a basement without having one.

Do you need a building permit to drywall a basement

Most homeowners ask do I need a building or why do I need a building permit for drywalling my basement? I think it is best to start by answering the question when do you definitely need a building permit?

By answering this question you will know where you are and what to do from the very beginning of your project. The following situations are the ones that you can not do without a building permit:

  • If you are changing the wiring;
  • If you are changing the structure layout;
  • All the plumbing work;
  • Raising a new construction;
  • Renovations that will lead to house layout changes.

Do you need a building permit?

Few factors will determine whether or not you need a permit to install drywall in your basement:

  • The level of finish you are planning to complete;
  • Just a simple carpet adding or you adding walls and electricity
  • Do you have a completely unfinished basement or partly finished

Depending on your situation, you may or may not need a permit. In most cases, you will need a building permit to finish your basement especially if you are installing a new wall. It is best to check with your local building department.

The definition of a new wall includes “installing drywall over a previously existing framed wall”.

All kinds of plumbing, wiring, electrical, or HVAC work will require permits, while on the other hand, carpet and painting do not require a permit.

“While it may be tempting to forego the permit, a remodel or addition done without one can be a problem if the homeowner decides to sell or refinance”

Attorney Patrik Noaker, from Noaker Law firm.

Reasons for building permits?

It is clear that finishing the basement with drywall is a straightforward job. Then why any creation of an extra room, or just one sidewall or the whole basement requires a permit? Because the building inspector wants to inspect what is behind the wall before it gets covered up for good and to be sure that your structure meets the building code.

Types of permits to drywall a basement

There are several types of building permits you may need to drywall your basement. I think that you need to know them before you start your project.

A building permit

A building permit may be required if you have no existing structure on your property or if you attaching a new structure (basement) to the existing structure. A building permit may also be needed for electrical work in the basement, but this varies from one jurisdiction to another. Check with your local government and building department before starting.

A demolition permit

This type of permit is required when your renovation process includes tearing down an existing structure.

Inspection permits or other types of special permits may be required by some jurisdictions for types of work such as installing a fireplace and similar.

Drywall permit costs

Drywall permit costs depend on your location and the size of the project. Expect to pay from $400 to $1,800 for projects like building a house, but for a smaller project like drywalling a basement prices vary from $100 to $400.

The estimated cost of the renovation will determine the overall cost of the permit. The more costly is your renovation, the higher will be the price of the permit.

Another cost factor that had to be considered is the submission fee for your building plan. Usually, this is not a big fee but it must be paid.

How to get a building permit?

Don’t worry my friend. Maybe it sounds frightening but it is not. I have made the research for you and this can help you prepare for the task. But to be 100% sure that you will do everything right contact your local building authorities. Do not rely on these steps completely because as we already mentioned, different municipalities have different rules.

  • Plan your project and put the estimated cost and the structural changes;
  • Call the local building office and take their feedback on your project. That information can help you remove any issues with the project model;
  • Go and get a building permit application from your local building office, or try to download it from their official website;
  • Complete the application and keep your building plan handy for submission. Sometimes, you may also have to submit the rendered architectural plan from a licensed architecture;
  • Submit the building permit application at the local building office and pay the submission fee.

Wait for the approval of the project. When the project is approved you will have to pay the permit fee.

How to get a building permit

Do I violate the law if I drywall the basement without a building permit?

Hm… You are not breaking an actual law if you fail to get a permit for basement finishing. In most jurisdictions, you are actually breaking a bylaw or local law.

Failure to get a permit when required does break a bylaw and is thus illegal. While police are not involved in bylaw enforcement, many municipalities create building codes that consider bylaws. These are created to ensure safe building practices, such as finishing a basement, and when these practices are not followed, there are penalties.

What are the consequences if I finish my basement without a building permit?

The consequences and penalties for finishing a basement without a building permit are not as severe as going to jail. They are more financial. Below is the list and explanation of the possible penalties.

What are the consequences if I finish my basement without a building permit


As I said in the introduction, financial consequences are the most common if you have done unpermitted work in your basement. Also, this levy is often in conjunction with an order to remove all of the existing structures that don’t meet code requirements.

If you are a “new offender:)” maybe you will get a chance to submit a retroactive permit application, but first, you must pay the fine. The permits still must be approved and the visits from the local authorities must be completed, but this is better than having to tear the recently finished basement.

How much are the fines?

It depends on where you live, it can range from $200 in Florida to up to $1,000 in Baltimore County, Maryland. With the national average cost of around $600. The local building office will tell you:)

Returning to “former condition”

Your municipality can require your finished basement to be returned in its “former condition” if it is without a permit.

You must know that you are liable for all the charges relating to returning the basement to its former condition. If you don’t comply, many jurisdictions will apply more fines or pursue more drastic legal action, such as charging the homeowner with a misdemeanor.

Decreased home value

This is an indirect result of failing to obtain a permit for basement finishing. A building permit ensures a properly completed home improvement project.

Without the building inspector’s “green light” there is no guarantee that all the work has been done safely and correctly. This potentially can put at risk the home security and the safety of the people who live there. This lowers the value of your home.

Additionally, the potential buyer may ask their lawyer to pull any permits submitted for your address, and if no permits are evident and the work is done they may withdraw.

Lack of insurance coverage

A finished basement without all the necessary permits wouldn’t be covered by the insurance in case of disaster. Even if you have spent thousands of dollars on finishing your basement, without proper permits it is very likely that your insurance company will not cover the replacement of the disputed items.

Mortgage refinancing jeopardized

If for any reason you need to reapply for a new mortgage or your existing mortgage need to be refinanced, the mortgage lenders will only lend based on recorded square footage.

Most states do not count basement square footage, finished or unfinished, so adding the basement won’t affect your remortgaging efforts.

Tips when trying to obtain a building permit

Whatever you’re trying to achieve in your everyday life it is always better to have some shortcuts or some useful tips. Here are some tips that can help you in the communication with the building inspector/s during their visit. Personal contact and a friendly relationship with the inspector/s can have a huge impact on the final result.

Let’s help each other

Building inspectors are regular people who go to work like everyone else. They do a lot of inspections a month, new construction, renovations, additions, and more. So to gain their benevolence, respect their time.

Before they came to your place make sure that everything is prepared for them to have easy access to walk around and see what they need to inspect. For example, if they are coming to inspect your electrical work, make sure they can see all of the outlet boxes and they can get to the electrical panel.

You welcome them

Be sure that you will be the first person that will open the door for them, not your wife or your brother, YOU. They want to talk with you. Maybe they will have some questions that only you can answer because no one knows your basement and your house better than you.

Also, if they have any instructions for you before the final inspection, you need to hear them first hand. The most important thing is that inspectors need to trust your work, and it is difficult to trust someone that you don’t know.


Yes, it can. For example, you are moving into a new house and discover that a building permit was never submitted for that address and the basement is finished, you can apply for a retroactive permit.

Inspector will come to visit your basement and maybe will ask you to remove some drywall sheets for him to be able to see what’s behind the walls.

igor elenchevski
Author: igor elenchevski - is a prolific writer in many niches including music, home improvement and even psychology and addictions. His success is built around his in-depth research and understanding of a subject before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys).