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No. Work can not proceed until the permit has been issued.
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The Massachusetts State Building Code Section 113.1 states that "it shall be unlawful to construct, reconstruct, alter, repair, remove or demolish a structure; or to change the use or occupancy of a building or structure; or to install or alter any equipment for which provision is made or the installation of which is regulated by this code" without first obtaining a building permit. This includes, but is not limited to, new structures, additions, dormers, chimneys, woodstoves, decks, roofing, siding, swimming pools, antennae, and sheds. The only exception is an ordinary repair. An ordinary repair does not require a building permit.
Paving projects do not require a building permit but will require a permit from the Engineering Department if work is being done within the public right-of-way. There are also zoning restrictions on the amount and location of paving, so check first with the Office of Community Development.
Section 201 of the State Building Code defines ordinary repairs as "any maintenance which does not affect structure, egress, fire protection systems, fire ratings, energy conservation provisions, plumbing, sanitary, gas, electrical, or other utilities. This has been interpreted to mean that rotted floor boards can be replaced on a deck, but the deck can not be rebuilt without a permit. Also, damaged roof shingles can be repaired, but the entire roof can not be re-shingled without a permit. If in doubt as to how much work can be done under ordinary repairs, contact the Inspectional Services Department before the start of work.
The Office of Community Development has a maximum of 30 days in which to issue or deny a building permit. The actual time can vary from 1 day up to the maximum 30 day limit, depending on the number of applications ahead of yours, and the scope of work. Generally, the smaller jobs will take a shorter time, with new buildings taking close to the full 30 days, so allow for this in your scheduling.