Do You Need A Permit For A Pergola?

wooden beige pergola in the middle of a backyard with a gray paver patio and green grass behind it

If you’ve chosen to build a pergola there are many features to finalize.  Will you be building an aluminum pergola with motorized louvers? Maybe you’re planning on a traditional wood pergola with wisteria growing on it. And of course, you need to figure out where you want to put it.  Figuring out the location brings up an important issue.  When planning where to put the pergola are there any restrictions or setbacks you need to worry about?  Do you need a permit for a pergola?

How To Determine If You’ll Need A Permit For A Pergola

When choosing the location and confirming your compliance with the setbacks in your area, you’ll need to review the zoning bylaws (if they exist in your community). Like many backyard improvements, there are varying ways pergolas are included or referred to in the code language. 

In many cases, the definition is not specific. You’ll need to ask for clarification from a building official or zoning department official.   However, pergolas can be referred to as many different names. These include ‘arbor’, ‘ramada’, ‘shade structure’, ‘garden structure’ and many other descriptors. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what needs a permit and what doesn’t. Furthermore, you should save any correspondence you have received.

Do You Need A Permit For A Pergola?

In many cases when considering the question do you need a permit for a pergola, the answer is no.  Oftentimes construction requiring a permit is restricted to ‘structures’ with a roof.  Since a pergola is open much of the time if not all the time, they may not be counted as ‘structures’.  However, in other cases they do count as a structure because of their height relative to the property line.  

backyard image with black pergola and brown patio furniture showing do you need a permit for a pergola as no unless it's attached to another structure

Why Do Some Town’s Zoning Laws Require A Pergola Permit?

Zoning laws are typically written to protect neighbors from neighbors, and this can include ‘structures’ over a certain height within a specific distance from the property line. If you see this language, it’s important to look at the definitions within the zoning bylaw for exactly what they consider to be a ‘structure’.  It may sound like you’re getting into the weeds here with nuance, but it’s important to pursue the permitting requirement so you don’t have any issues in the future.  

Another important aspect to remember, is if you build the pergola with any lighting or maybe a built in outdoor kitchen, you will need other permits.  Maybe you don’t need a permit to put in the pergola to begin with, but you certainly will need a permit to put in the electrical or gas work required.  

There are some parts of the country where permitting is required for just about everything you do.  On top of permitting, you may need homeowners association approval as well.  There’s other parts of the country where you aren’t required to pull permits for anything other than a septic system.  The variability from town to town within the same state can be huge.  

Permitting Advice From A Landscape Designer

The important thing to remember when going through the process of determining do you need a permit for a pergola, is eventually you’ll have your pergola and be outside enjoying it.  Sometimes it can feel like your city or town is so anti-construction they want to keep you from having what you want. 

However, going through the process will help you understand more about your town. It will also keep you in compliance going forward.  The best thing to do in any case is to make sure you comply.  If there’s no requirement, get a note in writing from the building department or zoning stating such. Afterward, go build your pergola.

Do You Need A Permit For A Pergola Summary

Now you are aware that some parts of the United States require a permit for a pergola and others do not. We’ve lived in three different regions and saw rules vary widely. However, to generalize an answer, most of the time a permit is not required for a pergola. If you’re planning to incorporate a pergola into other additions such as an outdoor kitchen, you may require more permits. The more you do in your backyard, the higher the chance you need a permit. When working with a contractor or landscape designer, lean on their knowledge of what’s necessary.