Denver offers a bonanza of free construction permits

Applying for permits of any kind isn't thrilling stuff. But for the next two weeks, the process of getting the city's building department to check off on your home improvements involves the words "free" and "bonanza." What's more exciting than that?

From June 1 until June 15, during what the city is calling the Home Renovation Bonanza, you can get construction permits for minor to mid-range improvements to your one- or two-family home (get the details here) for free!

Day one of the Bonanza didn't involve lines-out-the-door mayhem, but there was a steady stream of people applying a classification of permit called the "walk-through," which covers mid-size projects: Think a new bathroom in the basement.

These permits run $35 for $500-to-$2,000 projects, and an additional $8 for every $1,000 after that. The building department typically gets only five to ten walk-through permit-seekers per day, says department spokesman Julius Zsako.

Contractor Jerry Vidmar got a permit Monday for a basement renovation that would have cost him $300 pre-Bonanza. He says he used the waived fee as part of his sales pitch to the homeowner.

The number of applicants for "quick permits," the other kind of permit covered until the Bonanza rules, weren't any higher than normal, however. While building official Mike Roach says there were a few homeowners waiting outside when the office doors opened at 7:30 a.m., which is somewhat atypical, things slowed down after that. Quick permits are for projects such as water heater replacements that cost $500 or less; they cost $20.

Roach says he expected more people to line up for the quick permits, which are typically the bulk of the permits that the office issues each day.

Zsako says he isn't aware of a precedent for handing out free home-renovation permits. A few cities have done it temporarily after fires or hurricanes, and at least one city has recently waived the penalty for doing work without a permit. But Denver appears to be the first to offer this particular and presumably inexpensive way of stimulating the economy. And actually, the Bonanza may have unexpected benefits:

Dwayne Daniels applied for a permit Monday, but only because he'd heard about the Bonanza on the news. Before that, he says, "I didn't know you needed a permit to work on your own house." He and his wife, Alice, are working on their deck. "I guess you don't own nothing."

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