A lot of people who start their off grid journey tend to ignore permits. There is a big misconception that if you build in a remote area then you do not need a permit as nobody will find out about it. Back in the day, around 10-20 years ago this was actually the norm for most people living off the grid, build first and worry about the permit later. In the late ’90s, living off the grid started to become extremely popular, and getting a permit was the last thing on people’s minds.
There are a lot of consequences of building without a permit anything from a simple warning to forced demolition and even jail time. A lot of people tend to think that as long as they build in a remote area they do not need a building permit, but with the help of modern technology the local authorities can survey the land in a matter of minutes, so make sure to have your building permits.
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The difference between now and back then is that technology progressed a lot, and the local authorities do not even have to travel to your homestead to make the inspection, they can do it in an instant and see if you have already built something with the help of satellite images, they are basically using google maps. Around 15 years ago this technology was not available to the public and a lot of people could get away by building their homestead in a remote area without having a permit.
Some of them have got the permit after they have built the homestead, while others never got the permit and they are living on the edge as any day they could get a surprise mail in their letterbox. Back in the day, most people who lived off the grid and built their homestead did apply for a permit, but getting a building permit took months. Although getting a building permit after 2-3 months is not a big deal some might think, but in an area like Alaska where the construction period is just a couple of months for a year, this could mean delays of a year.
Today the problem is not that the permits get issued slowly but due to the actual building code. The building code has evolved through the years and more and more things are required to be in order, and in some circumstances, these can not be applied as a homestead is a lot different than a suburban home. Just keep in mind that the information provided in this article is provided by yours truly and I am not a lawyer, so you should definitely consult your lawyer. If you want to live off the land, then read my recent article Is it legal to live off the land? ( Top 9 Rules ).
Fines due to building without a permit
If you get caught building without a permit then the best case scenario is to get a fine. As for how much will the fine be, that depends on what you have built and the local authorities. Generally speaking the larger the structure the bigger the fine is. Most people who live off the grid tend to use very little money, simply because they do not need that much to live comfortably, but a fine of a couple of hundred dollars could be a big setback.
In most cases even if you get fined you will still probably asked to make the modifications in such a way that it abides by the building code. This will most likely cost you a lot more than the fine itself. If you fail to make these modifications or you fail to pay the fine then the issue will escalate and the local authorities may even come to demolish the structure, and you will still have to pay the fine and the costs related to the demolishing process.
In Alaska, for example, you were allowed to build a small cabin in the middle of nowhere without a permit, although there were several restrictions on how small the cabin should be and how it should be built. There were a lot of these small cabins in remote Alaska, and around 20 years ago the local authorities would actually fly around with a helicopter, spot a cabin, and if they decided that the cabin didn’t follow the building code and restrictions they would actually burn it down, with everything in it. If you want to know which states are considered the best for homesteading and living off the grid then check out my recent article Best states for off grid living ( 1-50 Best to Worst ).
You can be forced to demolish the building if you do not have a building permit
In some cases, if you get caught without a permit for the structure you might be forced to demolish the building. The local authorities will give you two options, both ending with demolishing the building. The first option is to give you some time to demolish the structure yourself, and the second option is to let the authorities handle it, as they will bring in the crew to demolish the structure.
If you choose to let the local authorities demolish the structure then you will have to pay for the “work”. As for how much will this cost you depends on a couple of factors, but generally speaking, they can charge any amount they want. There are some scenarios with a conflict of interest like the owner of the construction company being a relative of the one who issues the demolishing order, in this case, the cost of it can be worth more than your off grid homestead. There are some legal procedures that you can take to delay or even overthrow the decision to demolish the building, although you will definitely need to talk to a lawyer about that. If you want to take a look at how is off grid living in Hawaii then check out my recent article Off grid living in Hawaii ( The Aloha State ).
In some cases, you can face jail if you build without a permit
Going to jail because you have built your homestead without a permit is fairly rare, although in certain situations it can happen. If you have a building without the proper permits and for some reason, this injures somebody, like the roof falling over them, then you might face some jail time, depending on the severity of the injuries. In addition to this, you will also probably be fined and the building will most likely be demolished.
Problems with the insurance company if you do not have a building permit
Insurance companies in an attempt to get as many people on board with their company will take on anybody, without actually verifying if you have a building permit or if the building respects the building code. In fact, some companies will knowingly take you onboard if you do not have a building permit. You might think that this is very generous of them, but the truth is that this is a win-win situation for them.
If your home gets damaged, or completely destroyed by something like a fire then your first step for rebuilding will be to contact the insurance company. These, in turn, knowing that you didn’t even have a building permit, will contest this in court and the chances of them losing the case are slim to none. There are some cases where the owner has sued the insurance company due to their predatory tactics but these court battles take years and are extremely stressful.
Not being able to sell the property if you do not have a building permit
Although this is not a legal problem, but if for some reason you would want to sell your property then without the necessary paperwork it will be extremely difficult. Some people do buy a property with buildings on them even if these do not abide by the building code and do not have the necessary permits because these properties are selling well below the market place. If you are looking for an off grid property, make sure that the paperwork is in order.
A lot of people will tell you that the missing paperwork is already being processed by the local authorities and it is only a matter of time, don’t get fooled by this, they either have every paper in order or they don’t. A lot of people get stuck with a property that they can’t even resell as the paperwork is not in order.
Building without a permit could cause problems with the neighbors
Off grid neighbors can be a two-edged sword, but the truth is that almost all zoning violations no matter where you live are reported by the neighbors. So if you do not have the best relationship with your neighbor and you do not have a building permit then you should probably expect the worst. This can even happen if your next-door neighbor is several miles away from you if they know that you do not have the necessary permits they can choose to use this information whenever they feel like it.
As you can see there are some fairly serious consequences if you get caught building without a permit. My personal recommendation is to get the unnecessary permits before you start building anything, and make sure that you respect the building code. If you already have a building without the necessary permits then you can still get them, although you should probably talk to a lawyer on how to proceed.