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Grown: What home renovations require a permit + how to get one in Little Rock, Central Arkansas

by Nyssa Kruse | April 27, 2021 at 9:36 a.m.
In this Friday, March 24, 2017, photo, Quinn Lovetro, an electrician with Tasch Electric, works on a home being built by Zach Tyson of Tyson Construction, in Destrahan, La.

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

As people purchased homes or spent more time in theirs during the pandemic, interest in home renovations has soared — the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found the amount Americans spent on home renovation was up in 2020 compared to recent years and is expected to continue to rise this year.

Before busting out the power tools, though, homeowners should check whether projects require permits from their city. To help, here are the basics on how permitting works in some Central Arkansas cities.

What is a permit?

Permits are formal permission from local governments approving a plan for renovation.

Cities have building codes that set standards for heating and cooling, electrical and plumbing work. They also create regulations on things such as the distance of buildings from property lines or the distance of a structure like a pergola from a home.

“We just have to make sure that the structure is stable and everything is up to code,” said Chelsea Matthews, permit technician for the city of Benton.

What type of renovations need a permit?

Physical changes to a home’s structure will usually require a permit.

“The best way to remember when a permit is needed is always ask yourself, is it structural?” Matthews.

That includes, among other things, removing walls, adding rooms or modifying electrical and plumbing systems.

Changing the outside of a home sometimes also requires a permit. Replacing a fence in Little Rock requires one, as does adding a shed.

Terry Steele, permit supervisor for the city of Little Rock, said in general, purely cosmetic changes such as replacing flooring, countertops or paint on the walls do not require a homeowner to seek a permit.

How do homeowners get a permit?

Steele said if a homeowner is working with a contractor, that person will usually handle the permitting process.

If a homeowner is doing renovations themselves, the process will start with an application, though the specifics vary city to city.

In general, homeowners will need to describe the proposed renovation. McCollum and Matthews said that, in their cities, the application process requires a sketch of the work that will be done, but artistry is not expected.

“It can be a square on a piece of paper with the dimensions on it and how many feet this way, how many feet that way,” Matthews said. “That's really all we’re looking for.”

In Little Rock, applications can be completed online. Kenny McCollum, director of permits and inspections for the city of Conway, said an online permitting system is set to launch for his city soon, possibly next month.

In Benton, applications can be emailed to permits@bentonar.org.

Aside from doing an online application, homeowners can usually go in-person to city offices to submit applications and in some cases, may be able to complete applications via phone.

Steele said it’s uncommon for applications to be rejected, unless proposed plans come too close to the edge of the property or if an addition would cover too much of the property, as the city has limits for how much of the ground can be covered.

How much do permits cost?

Benton and Conway price permits per square foot being renovated.

McCollum said it’s important to get a permit prior to beginning work, because if the city of Conway discovers work was begun before a permit was approved, fees for permits automatically double.

The city of Little Rock prices home renovation permits based on the fair market value of the work being done. Work with a fair market value under $500 does not require a permit.

Who should be contacted for permitting help?

Permitting is usually a part of a city’s code or planning division, which could in turn fall under another city department, such as economic development.

More information on permitting in Little Rock can be found on the city’s website or by calling (501) 371-4449.

For information on permits in Conway, homeowners can check out the city’s website, call (501) 450-6107 or email permits@conwayarkansas.gov.

For assistance in Benton, email permits@bentonar.org or call (501) 776-5938. There is also information on the city’s website.

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