Resources for Homeowners
Building Permit Information
Obtaining proper permits ensures code compliance, safety of the work, and keeps you and your family protected… and it’s easier than you might think!
If and when you decide to tackle a home improvement project, please reach out to the Department of Neighborhood Services to determine whether or not you will need a permit for any of the work you are considering. The process is easy and well worth your time and effort. Additionally, when the time comes to sell your home, you’ll have peace of mind knowing the work was done correctly and according to the building code.
The importance of getting permits and inspections:
- Helps protect your investment and property value
- Saves money by doing things right the first time
- Insurance provider may not cover damages caused by unpermitted work
- Makes selling property easier when work is properly permitted
- When selling, owners are required to disclose improvements and if permits were obtained
- Improves safety by allowing inspectors to review work completed by a homeowner or contractor
- It’s the law – owners can be fined and work completed without a permit may be subject to removal
Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. We’re here to help!
Home updates that do NOT require a permit
(For 1-2 family properties only, not condos)
If your home is locally designated historic or in a historic district, you will need to contact Historic Preservation Commission staff to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness for any exterior alterations.
The following do not require permits, but are required to comply with Milwaukee Code of Ordinances (MCO). For further information or if you have questions on whether a permit is needed, please reference our “Does it Need a Permit?” webpage or call 286-8210.
- Installation or replacement of finished flooring.
- Painting, papering, tiling, cabinets or countertop installation, and similar finish work.
- Replacement of general-use snap switches, dimmer and control switches, and luminaries (lighting fixtures). All other electrical work must be done with permit by a licensed electrician.
- Installation of wiring or equipment that operates at less than 100 volts, or is for networked powered broadband communications systems.
- Replacement of plumbing fixtures (sink faucets, tub/shower faucet, toilets, sinks, showers, tubs) without alteration of water supply and distribution systems, sanitary drainage systems or vent systems. All other plumbing work requires a permit. A homeowner may obtain a permit and do plumbing work within their owner-occupied single family home. If the home is a two-family or not an owner-occupied single family, the permit and plumbing work must be done by a licensed plumber.
- Replacement of mechanical appliances (air conditioners, dishwasher, garbage disposal, washing machine, clothes dryer).
- Replacement of unlimited quantities of siding.
- Replacement of unlimited quantities of roof covering.
- Replacement of roof decking without modification to framing members.
- Repair or replacement of decking and floor boards on porches, decks and balconies. Exception: historic houses or districts.
- Decorative landscaping, raised garden beds, tree planting and removal, seeding and sodding of lawn, patio pavers, or decorative edging on your property.
- Retaining walls supporting less than 32 inches of unbalanced fill.
- Planting of flowers in the public right of way (MCO 116-54).
- Replacement or modification of gutters and downspouts or addition of a rain barrel (MCO 225-4.2).
- Installation of a window air conditioner.
- Installing or modifying a flagpole on your property.
- Detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds or similar uses, under 150 square feet in the rear/back yard and are at least three feet from the property lines (MCO 239-11).
- Tents 600 square feet or less; tents with three or more open sides; and tents that are erected solely for private use by owner/tenants of 1-4 unit residential properties (MCO 261-42).
- Window replacement, unless one or more of the following is true: the size of the window opening is being changed, the window is within three feet of a property line, the dwelling is a city-designated historic structure or located in a city-designated historic district.
- Exterior or interior door replacement or hardware, unless the size is being changed or the dwelling is a city-designated historic structure or located in a city-designated historic district.
- Construction of a child’s playhouse or play structure. No playhouse shall be located in the front yard or the required side setback (MCO 295-505-4.j).
- Concrete flat work on private property, including but not limited to: driveways; service walks; patios; service walk steps. NOTE: Any work affecting the public way (public sidewalk and/or curb cut driveway approach) requires separate Department of Public Works (DPW) approvals and permits.
Tips on working with contractors & getting permits
- Homeowners may apply for a permit to do the work themselves, as long as they occupy the property and the home is not being rented.
- Select a licensed home improvement contractor for your project.
- Make contractors responsible for their work and insist that they obtain permits for your project.
- Request references from contractors and obtain at least three bids.
- Be cautious of contractors who state that no permits/inspections are needed or ask you to obtain a permit on their behalf.
- A written agreement will ensure no misunderstandings about the work or contract terms.
- Ask questions and make any changes before signing a contract and before any work begins.
- Permits can be applied for and paid for online through the Land Management System (LMS).
- Visit the Permit & Development Center at 809 N. Broadway. Call (414) 286-8210 for assistance or email DevelopmentCenterInfo@milwaukee.gov.
- Permits are public record and can be viewed at My Milwaukee Home or (LMS).
- Permits expire after two years. Construction must start and have an inspection within 180 days from the date the permit was issued. An extension can be requested through your district inspector before the expiration date occurs.
- If your home is designated historic or in a historic district, you will need to contact Historic Preservation Commission staff to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness for any exterior alterations. To check if your home is historic or in a histroic district contact HPC staff or visit My Milwaukee Home, enter address and view info under the "Special Interest" tab.