Conventional wisdom tells us that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. In the realm of construction, this truism is anything but wise.

Whether it’s a driveway extension you put in or a deck the home’s previous owner had built, renovating without a building permit is risky business: It’s all fun and games until you get caught and receive an order to comply.

What Is an Order to Comply?

An order to comply is issued by the respective municipality you reside in, usually by the by-law office, letting you know that they have been made aware of a part of your home that they do not have a record of inspecting on file. 

How did the municipality come to know of your reno? It could have been observed by a local inspector who may have been conducting an inspection nearby, or even a neighbour who is potentially affected by the structure. 

Good news: An order to comply doesn’t mean that what was built was done so incorrectly. It only means that the municipality never granted permission to build it, and have no record as to how it was built. 

How to Ask for Forgiveness

Ultimately, the municipality’s goal is to ensure two things:

  1. What is built conforms to building code and is a safe piece of construction
  2. It conforms with the respective municipal zoning by-laws, which ensure uniformity of residential areas

The cost to remedy the order depends on how much work would be specified by the designer or engineer to bring it up to code. A knowledgeable designer will always look for ways to comply with the code while trying to minimize the cost to repair. 

Unfortunately, if the structure does not meet zoning standards, such as being built too high, or in an area where the by-law restricts the construction of certain things (e.g. basement apartment in a flood plain), you may be required to remove it.

There are some instances when contravening a zoning by-law may be resolved by asking for forgiveness at council, called a committee of adjustments. There is lots of helpful information about the committee of adjustments that can be found at your local municipal office or its website.

Asking for Permission If asking for forgiveness sounds painful and costly, that’s because it can be. Unless you’re an expert in the building code and your city’s specific zoning, it’s always best to engage a registered structural designer or an engineer, who can navigate you through the building permit process. It’s a low price to pay for peace of mind