June 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

The Handyman

Check the rules before you dig into a project

Thinking about adding a deck or patio? Better check to see if you need a permit first. (PhotoDisc)

Now that the home remodeling and landscaping season is in full bloom, you need to make sure you follow the rules whenever you start a project. No, not the wife’s rules (although those ARE important), but the rules set forth by your local municipality, homeowners association or state, depending on what project you are embarking on.

“You need a permit for just about any interior or exterior alteration to your home in South Lyon,” said Anne Badarak, the building department clerk for the City of South Lyon, southlyonmi.org, explaining why it is important to check with the city first before starting any home improvements.

In most communities, popular projects like additions, basement remodeling, decks, gazebos or hot tubs generally require a permit. But there are projects where you may not realize you need a permit, such as installing awnings, flag poles and fences, to name a few.

Barry Miller, assistant superintendent for the building department in Clinton Township, clintontownship-mi.gov, said, “Re-roofing is one of the most common projects that people don’t realize needs a permit.”

He also said that while homeowners and contractors know that adding a deck requires a permit, recent changes in the Michigan Building Code stipulate that decks can no longer be directly attached to brick, so there are often changes in the code that need to be factored in to any project.

Homeowners should never pull a permit themselves unless they are actually doing the work. Instead, let the contractor pull the permit from the city.

In addition to your local municipality’s rules, you may be subject to the rules of your condo or homeowner’s association. For example, many cities require you to get written consent of an adjoining property owner when you erect a privacy fence, and some homeowners associations may not even allow fences in the subdivision.

Some homeowners associations also mandate everything from the style of roof shingles you can have to whether you can fly one of those decorative flags or Detroit Tiger’s pennant from your porch. Often, these rules are outlined in a restrictive covenant (also known as deed restrictions) on your property, and are designed to protect property values in a subdivision. But they also may mean you can’t obstruct your neighbor’s view of the lake with your proposed two-story gazebo, or paint your home that lovely shade of purple you always wanted.

“Generally you can’t park an RV, boat or camper in the front driveway of a home for more than a 48-hour period,” Miller said. “We do allow you time to park it for a couple of days to get ready for a vacation, but after that it needs to be parked in the driveway in the back of the house if you plan to keep it on the property.”

One outdoor entertainment item that may have both city and homeowner’s association rules to follow is use of a fire pit. Most cities have rules regarding the size of the fire you can burn, proximity of the fire to any structure and even the type of fire pit that can be used. Then there could be the nuisance factor if the smoke from your fire goes directly into the neighbor’s window every weekend.

While there are plenty of rules you may need to follow when doing things around the house, the good news is that most municipalities have made it easier for you by listing all city ordinances and permit information on their websites. And you can always go “old school” and call them.

When it comes to following the rules for home projects, it is always better to be proactive and make sure you won’t have to re-do something because it wasn’t done according to code. This is another example of how proper prior planning can prevent poor projects. And in the long run, it can also save you time and money.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.