Do You Need a Permit for a Pergola? (The Legal Checklists)


In this article, you’ll be guided on the legal aspect of constructing a Pergola.

A pergola which is known as a projecting eave is a structure constructed outside a house that forms a shade and a sitting area.

These kinds of structures vary in shapes and sizes concerning the purpose it was meant to serve. It is also referred to as an architectural garden. It’s an open structure with no roof.

What is a permit?

A permit or a development permit is the approval by relevant physical planning authorities to commence a construction project, for structures that will mostly affect the layout and aesthetic functionality of a place, and those that can cause harm to people or animals.


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What do you need to present to be granted a permit?

You can have your contractor go through all these minor details for you like drawing your idea into a visual plan that will convince the planner.

You should also provide your house initial plan or have them integrated for the ultimate visualization. There exists several architectural software for 3D realization like that can show aspects of real life.

You don’t have to be an expert to draw all this, you can describe to your architect or show him pictures of your dream pergola, and he will visualize it in a 2D or 3D drawing.

Do you need a permit?

You do not need a permit for a pergola that measures 20m2 in area or less, that is located in your backyard and have a height of 3.6m. your structure qualify to be a pergola as long as it does not have an attached roof. This does not indicate that you can go on building ignoring your states or cities regulations and codes and erect structures anywhere.

Of course, pergolas that are bigger than the required minimum require a building permit to start construction.

A pergola should be an independent house, not attached to the main house so if you intend to attach one end of the wall to the pergola you will need a permit.

A pergola should be distinguished from sheds by the fact that they don’t have roofs, instead they are structured with crisscrossing beams, that are made of wood or aluminum and climbing plants are trained to climb the beams.

A variety of flowers like bougainvillea, jasmine, wisteria and honeysuckle color the pergola earning the name architectural garden.

Pergola offer the perfect outdoor space to relax during the day or a cool clear night watching the stars.

Types of Building Permits

‘Real estate law 101’ states that you need two types of building permits to start building:

  • Planning permit
  • Building permit.

Planning permit, this one looks at the beauty and boundary codes such that you do not cross over to the neighbors or build over a road reserve or a power leave way.

How much does a building permit cost?

On average, a building permit costs $1,091. Most homeowners spend up to $1,821 to get a permit, but the cost differs from city to city, small towns charge an average of $200 whereas the big cities may charge as high as $6,490.

Applying a building permit is charged at different rates depending on the location and state or the cost of hiring a surveyor to visit the site or consultation fees.

Is wise to take a precautionary measure to avert the insurance claims in case everything does not work out or when you need to sell your house.

Why is a permit necessary?

A building permit is needed for reasons:

1.      To ensure that it is being built by registered and qualified builders, the documentations needed are valid such as title deeds and other ownership documents,

2.  To ensure that as the construction continues experts inspect the work being done and finally when the construction is done, to determine whether it is suitable for its purpose.

3.  The most important point in the functions of a building permit is that they ensure that the structures put up are safe in terms of size and structural integrity, building materials used and the minimum standards the developer must meet.

4.  To prevent accidents from poorly constructed structures.

5.  The development permits also strive for the well being of people as they use the put-up structures such as the environmental impact of the structure.

People, on the other hand, do not know the importance of applying for a planning permit and view it as a waste of money. This especially happens in areas that the members of the public are not aware of the reasons behind the planning permits.

What can make the authorities to refuse your building proposal?

a). Crowded spaces: The physical planners will not allow you to build a structure anywhere it will obstruct movement or impede traffic. Building an outdoor structure like a pergola in small space might make you feel confined in a dark small space.

b). Change in landscape: Where the installation of a pergola will destroy a certain view or have to alter the landscape to accommodate a pergola. You also don’t want to destroy that sunrise or sunset view with an impending structure.

c). Shading a near window: A pergola offers additional shading to a window that might leave the room feeling cold and dark. Efficient natural light must be let into a room

Different states have different rules that necessitate a permit for building a pergola like;

Pergola kit

In some states you are free to use a pergola kit without consulting the authorities because it is safer. Pergola kits are kind of prefabricated and may assist you a great way in building a perfect pergola for the ‘do it yourself’ kind of people. You can also hire a licensed contractor to fix you a good and sound pergola that will meet all the regulations. 

Height of the pergola

According to some building codes and regulations in a certain area, pergola which its height is not more than 3.6m high and 20meter squared and located at the rear of the house do not require a permit.

However, those that exceed the forward length of 2.5 meters require a permit. The reason for a permit is that these kinds of pergolas alter with the house design and structure. This, however, is an exemption since almost all buildings or structures need a planning or development permit before building.

If you intend to light a fire inside your pergola, especially for wood stocked firepits, you can consider increasing its height. Different states and authorities have different rules and restrictions on fires especially in areas that experience numerous forest fires.

Size of the pergola

In terms of size, big pergola should have planning permits since they serve a big congregation or host a lot of facilities such as, luxury seats, lamps, fans and electrical appliances such as screens televisions and radios.

Due to the presence of all these facilities in the pergola, a planning permit is required for safety purposes, however small pergolas which only have few furniture such as sitting benches and are relatively small in size may not need a planning permit since they serve a small group of people.

A smaller pergola would pose a little amount of risk than a massive tall pergola that cannot support its weight.


In terms of the location of the pergola, those pergolas that are built in front of the building or other structures and affects the flow of either people or traffic in the area needs a building permit.

Those which are built at the backyard of houses and have no interference do not require a planning permit since they only serve a small number of people such as family members.

In another angle pergolas built in urban areas are likely to require a planning permit whereas those built in rural areas may necessarily not require a permit from the authority.


In terms of the purpose, the involved authorities seek to know whether the pergola, mostly those put up in urban areas, is for social gatherings or a resting place or a business area.

In most of these functions, a planning permit is needed but what varies is the amount being paid to the authorities. However, pergola meant for resting and gatherings may get waivers or very low costs of building permits if the authorities want to promote social aspects of the community around.

The decision on whether or not to obtain a building permit rests in the hands of the owner or developer. However, the decision that he or she makes comes with consequences or benefits.

Advantages of obtaining a building permit?

  • If the developer decides to obtain a building permit, he or she enjoys a lot of benefits such as:
  • The structure is well analyzed and checked by professionals such as engineers and planners hence quality in terms of designs and the materials required is achieved
  • The developer escapes penalties, fines or even court rulings from the authorities since he or she has permission to commence the building.
  • The constructions of the structure are well examined during and after the construction to ensure materials used and other necessities are met for people to use or reside in the pergola
  • The developer adds aesthetic value to the nearby houses since the design is done by a registered professional
  • The developer also adds value to the house when it comes to selling the house. These permits show the clients buying the house that everything constructed in the homestead including the pergola is regally built.
  • The developer also is guaranteed a structure that is well maintained it can serve him or her for a long period before it needs some maintenance.

Consequences of refuting to seek for a permit

On the other hand, when a developer ignores the purpose of a building permit and fails to secure one, several consequences follow up.

  • The safety of a pergola is at stake since it’s not verified whether it was done properly using the required materials.
  • The authorities may impose fines for not abiding by the rules. They may also declare your pergola inhabitable making the structures near the pergola to lose value.
  • They may also consider demolition of the pergola which leaves a big trail of financial losses along the way.
  • The owners may also risk accidents such as electric shocks, demolition by strong weather or even leakage of the roofs leading to damages of the facilities hosted by the pergola. This damages are however not insured because the structure is not legally documented and therefore no claims can be made.

It’s highly recommended that a building permit should be applied for when a developer wants to do any developments no matter how small or big it is. People need to change their views on how they perceive building permits.

They need to stop seeing it as a mechanism from the authorities to collect money from them rather the should see it as a mechanism put in place to ensure good structures are erected and of good quality and have no safety issues.


In conclusion, pergolas have a very important role when its need arises be it a social place to, a resting place or a recreational area.

In all pergolas build, larger percentages are built-in homesteads or hotels where family members, clients, and tourists can relax.

This poses the need for having a good quality pergola which is built with the right materials to provide the required services to people.

This is to reduce the risks of collapsing when it cannot hold appliances and facilities required.

To achieve all the mentioned qualities, a building permit is required regardless of the size or type of pergola to be on the safe side.

A pergola can bring life to a rather dull back area and encourage outdoor life that comes with all manner of advantages like activation of serotonin a sleep hormone, alleviation of stress accumulated during the day, offer additional room to host guests on a hot summer afternoon and increase your houses (ROI).

Prepare a cost benefit analysis of constructing a pergola, it can help you to decide whether it is even worth it to start get all this trouble.

Cabot 140.0019202.007 Wood Toned Deck & Siding Low VOC Exterior Stain, Gallon, Cedar

  • A translucent oil finish that protects and beautifies wood’s natural appearance
  • Water repellent; deep penetrating
  • Ideal for decks, siding, fences and trim
  • Available in 5 wood toned colors
  • Not intended for interior surfaces