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Does DIY building in unincorporated areas require permits or inspections?


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We are looking to buy a couple of acres out in the country, probably in an unincorporated area. Other than deed restrictions, are the any other restrictions on what an owner can build on his own land in an unincorporated area? If I want to build a small cabin myself, do I need to deal with any government permits and/or inspections or can I do as I please?

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We are looking to buy a couple of acres out in the country, probably in an unincorporated area. Other than deed restrictions, are the any other restrictions on what an owner can build on his own land in an unincorporated area? If I want to build a small cabin myself, do I need to deal with any government permits and/or inspections or can I do as I please?

other than deed restrictions? what county are you going to build?

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Under the County Inspection Program of the TRCC, residential construction in rural areas of TX requires 3 inspections - a foundation inspection, a framing/mechanical/delivery systems inspection, and a final inspection. Inspections can be done by a registered design professional or a certified third-party inspector. It is up to the builder/remodeler to make sure these inspections happen.

Due to the death of the TRCC, this rule may be going away. Though, I doubt anyone followed it anyway.

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other than deed restrictions? what county are you going to build?

We haven't decided, but it will probably be somewhere in or near the Houston, Austin, San Antonio triangle. Are there building regulations at the county level and do they apply to DIY projects?

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Under the County Inspection Program of the TRCC, residential construction in rural areas of TX requires 3 inspections - a foundation inspection, a framing/mechanical/delivery systems inspection, and a final inspection. Inspections can be done by a registered design professional or a certified third-party inspector. It is up to the builder/remodeler to make sure these inspections happen.

Due to the death of the TRCC, this rule may be going away. Though, I doubt anyone followed it anyway.

The law may remain on the books, but without TRCC to enforce it I'm not sure what good it will do unless the legislature assigns it to a different agency. Regardless, I read through this regulation and it excludes owner-built structures so it wouldn't apply anyway.

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not true.......

Please provide clarification. Which of my two statements is untrue - the first, the second, or both?

I can see how the second statement would be less true in more populated unincorporated areas close to metropolitan areas, but I seriously doubt residential contractors were getting all the inspections done in many of the more isolated rural areas where regulation is more difficult, if not impossible. No proof of this assertion, just opinion.

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Please provide clarification. Which of my two statements is untrue - the first, the second, or both?

I can see how the second statement would be less true in more populated unincorporated areas close to metropolitan areas, but I seriously doubt residential contractors were getting all the inspections done in many of the more isolated rural areas where regulation is more difficult, if not impossible. No proof of this assertion, just opinion.

galveston county actively requires permits in all areas. incorporated and unincorporated. they are serious about building in flood plain, proper installation of septic systems, etc.

Edited by musicman
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galveston county actively requires permits in all areas. incorporated and unincorporated. they are serious about building in flood plain, proper installation of septic systems, etc.

Thanks. That certainly makes sense, given that Galveston County is in a coastal zone, and it is populated by a fair number of people.

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If they did build where permits are required without permits, what would be their consequence if caught? Would the city/county make them tear down the structure? just inspect the structure and make them buy a permit? Or would there be a fine of some sort?

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If they did build where permits are required without permits, what would be their consequence if caught? Would the city/county make them tear down the structure? just inspect the structure and make them buy a permit? Or would there be a fine of some sort?

I don't know about all counties, but Harris County has the right to fine you daily until you get in compliance. I don't know if it's EVER used in anything but in the most egregious cases, but they can make your life bad.

From my perspective, floodplain is the biggest issue...getting your slab or floor elevation (and electrical and mechanical equipment) above the floodplain elevation. Doesn't guarantee you won't flood, but the floodplain was established there for some reason, so you'd be well advised to take the warning. Not to mention, slab/floor elevation can make a huge difference in flood insurance rates. If you don't take the warning, you could cost yourself hundreds of dollars per year in additional flood insurance premiums.

Also important to keep in mind that just because you're NOT in the floodplain doesn't mean you're safe from flooding either. It could be that there is a floodplain there that hasn't been officially recognized or mapped there, or there could be some other local drainage issue that would not be picked up in a floodplain analysis (typically an undersized inlet or inlet blocked with debris that can't be foreseen).

If you're building on acreage, spend the extra $$$ and elevate your slab/floor AT LEAST 1-2 feet above the ground, even if there is no floodplain. When the biblical floods come, you'll be relieved that you did.

Other than that, my understanding is that Harris County doesn't have any building code requirements. For just a single residential lot, you'd be looking at floodplain permits, driveway permits, and on-site sewage facility permit (aerobic sprayer) if you're not connected to a public wastewater system. No other codes for structure, plumbing, electrical, etc.

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If they did build where permits are required without permits, what would be their consequence if caught? Would the city/county make them tear down the structure? just inspect the structure and make them buy a permit? Or would there be a fine of some sort?

There was a case in Galveston County a few years back where a guy built on wetlands without the Corps of Engineers approval. He thought the same thing, "what are they going to do to me?" They made him tear it down!

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  • 3 months later...

I have 5 acres in Montgomery County and moved a bungalow from the Heights onto it. Had to obtain building permits for both the house and the storage building. While my situation is different since it was an existing structure, I asked if an inspection would be required after the new wiring and plumbing were done. They advised there wasn't a County Inspector and an inspection wouldn't be required.

That explains a lot of things I saw when looking for property! unsure.gif

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Builders in Harris Co. use three phase fee inspection system. Goes by either 2006 IRC or COH codes. This is the site where inspectors and builders register/ sign in: https://www.eng.hctx.net/permits/bldgcodes/Default.aspx

Don't know about citizen building his or her own crib. The wise owner will at least give a glance to the 2000 IRC (aka the Texas Building Code) to avoid hassles down the road, such as when selling.

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