Two relevant permit related stories:
We have a customer (we’ve done work for before) who is a realtor. He attempted to do a remodel on a house he bought, intending to rent it out. The remodel was enclosing a sun-porch/3 season room to be a fully tempered space-- a job that in our county would require a permit. This guy pinches pennies until they scream, so he finds some fly-by-night guy to do the work, but apparently a nosy neighbor sees the work going on and reports him. County inspector comes out and tells him he has to stop and get permit (work almost complete at this point). Of course, Mr. Fly-by-night is not licensed, so he CAN’T pull a permit, so Mr. Penny Pincher calls us. We pull the permit (double fees because the work was already completed), inspector comes out and says he’ll let us go on the inside work (customer had pictures of the insulation that was put in), but he wants us to strip the siding to make sure the nailing pattern on the sheathing is adequate and the window flashing was properly installed. We quote Mr. Penny Pincher a price to do the work, which he thinks is too high. We tell him we are happy to sub it out to someone else as long as they are licensed (because we pulled the permit, we have to do the work or have a licensed sub-contractor do it). As it happens, he called me today asking me to schedule the county inspection as he had someone else complete the required work. Dollars to donuts this person wasn’t licensed… if not I will NOT be calling for an inspection of work that we did not do. Mr. Penny Pincher’s stubborn refusal to not follow the rules is going to end up costing him a lot more in the long run.
2nd case, also currently ongoing— investor we’ve worked with before bought foreclosed house to fix and flip. He was told the basement had flooded so the drywall had been torn out down to the studs. He hired someone to come in (before us) to put the basement back together, including a new HVAC system. This guy tells our investor that permits are not required because your he was just fixing damage to an existing, approved structure (which isn’t true, not sure if he was lying or just incompetent). He installed the HVAC (which would have required a permit in any case, since it wasn’t pre-existing), put up drywall, ran wires for electric outlets. Anyhow, for various reasons our investor friend ends up firing this contractor because he’s not happy with the work, hires us to finish. We come in, tell him he needs a permit because he wants to put a bedroom in this basement and that requires an emergency egress. So when we go to county to get a permit for the window, we find out that this house is not listed as having a finished basement! So the previous owner had finished it off without a permit. So now we have to take everything back down to studs, redo the plumbing and electric (which wasn’t done properly and would never have passed inspection), insulate the walls, and rehang the drywall. Basically, undid all the work the previous guy did. Yes, our price to finish a basement was higher, but not as high as doing it TWICE.
TLDR version: Homeowner should take it upon themselves to know if a permit is required (don’t take the contractors word for it). If a potential contractor even suggests doing the work without a permit if one is required, they should walk away. While the homeowners in these two cases aren’t “in trouble” so to speak, they have both spent more money than they ought to have been. Permit costs are just a fraction of the total job costs. A legit contractor will not hesitate to “jump through the hoops”, its just part of the job. As someone mentioned upthread, if they’re willing to cut corners before the job even starts, what lies down the road?