Every big home improvement project in Rock City starts with a vision. A vision of marble counter-tops, spiral staircases, or a basement adorned with over a dozen outlets for that brand new entertainment center replete with Monster cables (with the gold plating) and speakers pumping out 360 degree surround sound. Alas, every ambitious project inevitably runs up against the harshness of reality – AKA local building codes. But not every vision has to compromise in the face of construction and safety codes. In fact almost any project, no matter how extravagant or HOA bylaw-breaking, can become a reality if you put in the time to get the right permits from Detroit’s Building, Safety Engineering, and Environment Department (BSE&E).


Construction/Building Permits


“Cut twice, measure once. Wait…shoot.”

Commonly Needed For:

  • New doorways/windows
  • Home additions
  • Adjusting your roofline
  • New structural elements – skylights, load-bearing wall, etc.

The City of Detroit requires a building permit for any new building or alterations to an existing building. The fees associated with these permits are based on the total estimated cost of the project, assessed using the price ranges below:

$2,000 or less = $150

$2,000-$500,000 = $150 + an additional $20 for every $1,000 over $2,000

$500,000-$1,000,000 = $10,110 + an additional $16 for every $1,000 over $500,000

$1,000,000-$2,000,000 = $18,110 + $10 for every $1,000 over $1,000,000

Over $2,000,000 = $28,110 + $8 for every $1,000 over $2,000,000

Obviously, the average homeowner is going to be looking at a permitting fee of about $150, unless you are building a paddock to house all 16 of your rare albino tigers. In which case, why are you even reading this guide? Money is no object for you. Heck, you could buy the permitting office and print your own inspection certificates for all of your eccentric billionaire architectural fantasies.

But I digress.

In order to apply for a construction permit you’ll need to get some of your ducks in a row. That means presenting a complete site plan, construction drawings, and cost estimates of the entire project to the city’s Buildings Division. These should all be furnished by a licensed architect or structural engineer. Once you have everything in place, fill out the online form located here and turn it and all your other documentation into the BSE&E office at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, 2 Woodward Ave. in downtown. If you have any questions or need assistance you can give the office a call at (313) 224-3202.


Electrical Permits


“Darn kids jammed a whole bunch of Play-doh in the service box.”

Commonly Needed For:

  • New electrical wiring
  • Electrical maintenance
  • Wire or equipment repairs

For everything electrical there is an electrical permit with your name on it. Or at least the name of your electrician. All electrical work should be done by a licensed electrical contractor registered in the state of Michigan, no matter how big or small the work is. Permits for electrical work can be obtained from the BSE&E office as well at Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, room 408 or you can print out a copy online from the city of Detroit’s website. Fees are due after approval and are determined based on the fee schedule included in the permit application. New installations carry a base rate of $50, while things like repairs or inspections do not. The usual wait time for permit approval is 5-10 business days.


Plumbing Permits


“I call it double-wrenching.”

Commonly Needed For:

  • New water heaters
  • New bathrooms, sinks, and other fixtures
  • Pipe repairs

The process for acquiring a plumbing permit is roughly the same as applying for an electrical one. First download or pick up a copy of the permit application from the BSE&E office, fill in the type of installation of repair you are making, and then hand in or mail the completed application to the BSE&E office. All applications should also include copies of a current contractor’s license, master plumber’s license, and a payment of $50 to cover the application fee.

The approval process can take between 5-10 business days, after which the project or repair can proceed. Once finished, call (313) 224-3202 to schedule a final inspection, after which you will receive a certificate of approval (assuming everything flushes down).


Street/Right-of-Way Permits


Lastly, we have street or right-of-way permits that allow the permit holder to place construction equipment on public roads or sidewalks. Our customers in Detroit pull these permits all the time in order to keep a dumpster on the side of the road rather than in their driveway. Street permits can be picked up over the counter from the City Engineering Division (CED) and will set you back $25 for each day that the dumpster is on the street. So you will need to do some budgeting in advance if you plan on keeping a dumpster or any other equipment on the street.

The CED is located in the same building as the BSE&E office, room #642. Their office can be reached over the phone at (313) 224-3935 if you have any questions.

So there you have it. Your new home is just a couple of permits away from completion. All you have to do is put the legwork in to get them all squared away before your project starts. And trust me, when it comes to getting a permit it is always better to ask permission first than to beg for forgiveness later!


Main Image Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation