How to Know If You Need a Building Permit in Boston, MA and How to Get One

There are so many reasons to love living in Boston. It’s a historical city that’s pedestrian-friendly, full of shopping and great places to eat and drink, and home to plenty of festivals. It’s no wonder that the real estate market is on the up and up.

So, if you’re a homeowner in Boston or a renter thinking about buying, there are plenty of reasons to invest in a big home project that you and your loved ones can enjoy for the long term. However, as with any property, there are tune-ups, tweaks, and updates that need to be made to really make your home feel like your own. And with the warmer months not far ahead, certain projects like building a deck or a fence might be on the very top of your mind.

Although it may seem like a hassle, getting a building permit not only gives you peace of mind but ensures that you won’t have any issues with the quality of your project as well. Not all projects require a building permit, but some of the most significant ones do, so it’s best to do your research beforehand. Here is everything you need to know about building a deck or a fence in Boston. 

Building permits and decks

What’s the quick and easy answer to whether or not you need a building permit to build a new deck in Boston?

It’s yes. While the construction of a new outdoor deck can be a relatively speedy process (about three or four weeks), obtaining a permit may take anywhere from one to two months depending on your zoning district. Step one is to find a reliable contractor and step two is to find out exactly what kind of permit you will need: Short form or Long Form?

A short form permit covers a simple cosmetic update to an existing structure and can take up to 24 hours to obtain from the building department with the help of a contractor. Anything from installing new boards to handrails can be covered under a short form permit.

You’ll need a long form permit if you’re building a new deck or changing the size, shape or location of an existing one. To obtain this permit, you’ll have to contact a local architect who can assist in drawing up blueprints and plans that you will then bring the building department for approval. The architect will need to stamp those plans as a sign of approval, and if it meets the zoning laws of your district, the building department should be able to provide you a permit within 30 days.

Building permits and fences

According to the Boston Real Estate Law News, in Massachusetts, you typically only need a building permit for a fence if it is over six feet high. However, these laws vary in different towns, neighborhoods and municipalities, so it’s worth taking the extra step to double check what goes in your area first. If you live in the city of Boston (not a neighboring suburb), you will need a “Use of Premises” permit if the fence will be over six feet tall. This permit can be applied for through the City’s website or at the Inspectional Services Department.

When it’s time to apply make sure you have a certified Plot Plan or diagram for temporary structures that will show how you plan on using the land. All of this information and more can be submitted online to the City of Boston via their website, here.

Sharing a fence with your neighbor? That just might work out in your favor. One interesting law notes that neighbors with a fence separating their land may split the cost of maintaining the fence unless they come to a different agreement. This just goes to show that it always pays to get to know your neighbors!

 If you’re looking to take on a bigger home improvement project involving air conditioning, roofing, or replacement windows in Boston, be sure to find a local contractor and compare quotes for the best prices.



Katherine Oakes