What Can Happen If You DIY A Shed Without A Permit Or HOA Approval

You had the best of intentions. You built your shed intending to keep your mower and your ever-increasing armory of yard and garden tools tucked inside. You planned carefully, considered dozens of designs, and built it as well as any pro could have. Then the notification arrived in the mail: You are in violation of your homeowners association's covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R), or you didn't properly acquire a permit to build the shed, or both. Maybe in the first letter, and probably in the second, you read about the possible consequences: fines, destruction of the shed, legal action, and worse.

Zoning and HOA rules can govern many aspects of a shed's construction: dimensions, positioning, type and quality of materials, and even the architectural style of the shed. Permitting is most often necessary for sheds of a certain size (sometimes fairly small, sometimes quite large) or for those that will feature electrical wiring. Preapproval by an HOA is usually required by its covenants, and permits are always required in advance and will subject you only to rules that existed before your shed was built. 

Even the neatest and most civic-minded homeowners occasionally get frustrated with their homeowners associations, and pulling a permit for home renovation or accessory buildings is never easy or fun. There are simply rules you need to know before building on your property. If a permit is required, or if you have HOA rules governing sheds, you might be in for a bit of trouble.

Fines can add up

How much trouble depends on where you live and, frankly, on the traditions and dispositions of the HOA or local government officials you're dealing with. It also depends on whether your "shed" is a 500-square-foot behemoth or a firewood shed created out of leftover wooden pallets. The penalties and the process can merely be a minor annoyance. HOAs don't typically want or need your money; they want you to comply with the CC&R regarding sheds. That's true for some local governments, too. But for both permitting agencies and HOAs, things can go far worse than you might imagine.

HOA penalties usually include relatively minor fines and a demand that you remove the shed or, depending on the CC&R, that you bring it up to spec according to the covenants in place. Fines can be as little as $25 at first but can increase over time according to a predefined schedule, sometimes to as much as $200 per month. Fines typically accumulate, and the total due can become quite large over time. Sometimes unpaid fines can be addressed by an HOA lawsuit, and in extreme cases, the organization might have the power to place a lien on your property and eventually even to foreclose on it. 

Failure to pull a permit, on the other hand, can be a lot more expensive — perhaps $500 per day — and the governing authority might find it appropriate to demolish your shed.