As renovations to flood-damaged dwellings across the city move into high gear, Thunder Bay officials are urging homeowners to remember that overhauls need a building permit.

However, there are some exceptions, said the city's development services manager Mark Smith. Minor fixes, like replacing flooring and trim, don't require a permit, he noted. But anything structural, such as large areas of drywall or new plumbing, require one.

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"If we learn of people who are doing work without permits, we'll be taking action to ensure that they do," said Mark Smith, general manager of Development Services for the City of Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Smith added getting a permit is not just about obeying the law.

"I think it's a wise thing to get somebody to check the work you're going to do before you do it," he said. "By following a permit process, you can have way more confidence that what you've done, you've done properly."

Thunder Bay resident Annie Burak, 86, said the thought of getting a building permit hadn't even entered her mind.

The basement belonging to Burak and her husband, Nick, was ruined by massive flooding that hit the city at the end of May. They lost all the furniture, as well as all the pickled preserves Annie Burak made for her family 

The walls need to be rebuilt, along with the bathroom, including a shower.  

Burak said her insurance company is arranging all the renovations. 

"I thought replacing it, you wouldn't need a building permit," she said. "But I guess you would, eh?"

When do you need a building permit?

  • Replacing or adding to structural elements (foundation pads, footings, columns or beams).
  • Adding or removing and replacing large areas of drywall, vapour barrier, insulation and interior partitioning.
  • Replacing plumbing drains, waste and vent systems, as well as water service piping.
  • Installing a backwater valve in a building drain.

When is a building permit not required?

  • Replacing finishing (wallboard, flooring or trim), reinstalling existing plumbing fixtures, or minor maintenance (patching).

Source: City of Thunder Bay

Nick Burak said he did the original renovation work to the basement in the 1950s. Annie Burak has lived in the McLaughlin Street home since she was a child

"When my husband fixed the basement, he fixed it to last," she said, as workers toiled away. "So they're having a hard time dismantling [it]."

Smith said the length of time it takes to get a permit depends on the nature of the work to be done — however, in most cases the city can provide one in a couple of days.

It’s a step that anyone doing renovations needs to consider, he said.

"This is the sort of thing that can haunt you in the fullness of time when you go to sell your home, and you've done work without the benefit of the permit," Smith said.

"That ... can be problematic years out into the future. There are a full gamut of problems that ... can arise if you don't do work properly and so that's certainly what we're trying to avoid by going through a permit process.

Smith said the goal is not to punish people, just to get compliance.  He added bylaw enforcement officers check areas of the city where they learn renovations are happening without building permits.

For those who are unsure if a building permit is needed, check the city’s website — building permits can also be downloaded there — or call Thunder Bay’s building division at 625-2574.

Permit fees for homeowners without insurance may be eligible for reimbursement under the Disaster Relief Assistance Program.