How To Build A Shed – Legal Issues

If you want to build a shed on your property, the first thing to do is to discover the legal issues involved. Even though you own your property, there are many layers of government regulations that affect what you can actually do with the property.

Before you start building a shed you need to check to see if one is allowed on your property, and under what terms.

Some of the areas of concern will be:

  • Size of your proposed shed, in square footage
  • Location, front, back and side yard setbacks from property line or any “regulated” areas
  • Lot coverage, % sq.ft. of buildings under roof to total lot area
  • Appearance, perhaps your shed will have to match your home in materials and appearance

Do you need a building permit?

That depends on your local building codes. Many building codes consider storage sheds to be accessory structures with different rules from main structures. Often times you can build a shed up to a certain square footage without needing a building permit.

But even if you don’t need a building permit to approve the construction details, you might need another sort of permission or approval to build. For example…

  • Home owners association
  • Deed restrictions
  • City, town or county building services department
  • Health department
  • Fire marshal or department
  • Historic district
  • State or federal, endangered species, watershed, etc.

This is only a partial list of the possible governmental agencies that can have jurisdiction over new construction on your property, over and above a building permit. You will only discover them by beginning the process, usually with your local building services department. They will know and be able to direct you to the other governmental agencies with jurisdiction over your property.

What happens if I ignore the laws and just build a shed as I please?

Of course you can ignore the laws, if you are prepared to face the consequences. If you are caught by a building inspector or zoning inspector or if you are turned in by an angry neighbor, be prepared to bring your shed up to compliance. Or possibly you will have to remove it all together.

Even if you don’t get caught in the short run, there are plenty of ways you might get caught later. Most applicable governmental agencies have and keep updated aerial and satellite photos of properties in their jurisdiction. This will prove when your shed was built. If you have a permitted structure and the rules change, you will be grandfathered in. Otherwise you will have to follow the rules as of the date they catch you.

If you ever apply for a permit for something else, the inspector will check all the structures and work on your property for permits. If they find anything un-permitted they will not issue a new permit until all the un-permitted work and structures are brought up to code and issued permits.Only then will they issue a permit for any new work.

Building and zoning laws change often and the new and updated rules are almost always more restrictive than the older rules they replace. So even if your shed would have complied when you built it, it will be subject to the new rules when they catch you for non-compliance.

In addition, when you sell your property there will likely be a clause in the contract that asks you to disclose any un-permitted construction on your property. If you don’t disclose the un-permitted work you are opening yourself up to even further liability.

A word to the wise…

Even though it’s a pain in the a** dealing with permits, it’s easier and cheaper in the long run to build your new shed in compliance with the law than to run the risk of getting caught with an illegal shed.