It’s easy to think that once you’ve installed your home alarm system, you’re completely covered. But for many parts of the country, the next step in home protection is filing a permit.
Many cities and communities require a receipt for local first responders to answer a distress call. If you’re wondering whether you need one or more permits for your security setup, you’re not alone. Here’s a brief guide to help you determine where you stand with alarm ordinances.
Technically, it's perfectly legal to install your security system without getting a home alarm permit. However, activating and operating the system is another matter.
If you're planning on remote monitoring or emergency response features, many local governments require you to have an alarm permit.
And even without any monitoring, a loud alarm can result in fines if you don't have the proper alarm permit.
A home alarm permit is mandatory for residents of many major cities and counties, mainly to address false alarms. Many of the laws date back a decade when home security systems and monitoring services were less sophisticated and homeowners less familiar with them.
Many cities, Police Departments, Sheriff's Departments, and Fire Departments require alarm system users to obtain an alarm permit.
Failure to obtain a needed Alarm Permit may result in municipal fines or refusal by an emergency agency to respond to an alarm at your premises.
To find out if a permit is required in your area, contact your local Police, Sheriff or Fire Department using their non-emergency telephone number, or look them up on the Internet if a permit is required.
What Is An Alarm Permit, And How Does It Work?
An alarm permit is a registration of your alarm system with your local responding agencies. In many municipalities, a permit is required if you have a security alarm that is audible and monitored.
It allows police to respond in an emergency. Alarm permit prices vary by location or property type, such as commercial or residential, and will come equipped with a security number.
This number will help authorities verify that the distress signal is warranted, enabling them to respond quickly in an emergency.
In the simplest terms, an alarm permit registers your alarm with local emergency services, including the fire and police departments.
In most cases, you pay a permit fee of between $25 and $100, and your home is assigned a unique number.
Emergency services use this number to identify you. This makes it easier for responders to contact you and verify that an emergency is genuine. In some locales, you may also be asked to place identifying stickers on your home’s windows and doors.
Typically, you need to file a form, agree to its terms, and pay an annual fee to your local municipality to have a permitted alarm.
Depending on where you live, a mandatory permit usually costs between $50 - $100. They can be approved on a one-time basis or are subject to annual renewals, and local laws may also require you to file separate permits for security and fire/medical alarms.
You can quickly check policies in your area through a quick visit to your city’s website or by calling your local county office.
How And Where To Get An Alarm Permit
As we’ve mentioned before, every city and county is different in how they treat alarm permits. However, the basic process for getting a permit is usually very straightforward, with the following general steps:
- Find out which permits you’ll need for your alarm (fire, police, electrical).
- Visit your town’s city hall or the local county courthouse and purchase your permit.
- Install any required stickers on your home.
- Keep up with any annual fees associated with your permit.
Again, in some cases, security companies may be willing to file your permits for you if the jurisdiction allows for that. Even if you’re doing it yourself, though, the entire process should be relatively painless.
- Check out your local municipality’s official website and search for alarm permit guidelines.
- Look for instructions on how to register your new security system, either by mail or online.
- Be sure to review all terms and conditions relating to your permit, false alarms, fines and appeals.
- Complete your permit application and submit a method of payment. Keep in mind; most applications require your alarm company’s information and emergency contact information for your household.
What Happens If You Don’t Have A Permit?
The consequences of not registering your security system and getting a permit will vary depending on where you live.
In some areas, homeowners without a permit will see much higher fines for false alarms than homeowners with permits.
They’ll also be warned to register their system ASAP to avoid further penalties. In other areas, emergency responders aren’t even required to answer an alarm if the home’s system isn’t registered to a permit.
As you can see, registering your security system and making sure you have a valid permit helps ensure you receive the help you need from first responders in the event of an emergency.
When Do I Need A Permit To Install A Home Security System?
There are a couple of different circumstances where you might need a permit for a home security system:
- You may need a permit if you’re doing electrical work to install your system.
- Emergency services departments — such as the police or sheriff’s department and the fire department — may require an alarm permit for emergency services to respond to alarms on your premises.
If you opt for a self-monitored alarm system, which sends you an alert rather than alerting emergency services to problems, you may not need the second type of alarm permit. But, if installing your system requires you to do any electrical work, you’ll likely need the first type even if you’re DIYing the job.
This is one reason many DIY home security systems work on WiFi rather than requiring hardwiring — if you’re installing a WiFi system, you don’t have to run electrical wires.
Third-party monitoring systems, on the other hand, send a signal to the security company providing the monitoring service. The security company then tries to contact you and, unless it can verify a false alarm, will notify emergency services personnel such as police, the fire department or first responders.
If you have a third-party monitoring service — whether you installed it yourself or had a security company install it — chances are good you’ll need an alarm permit so that emergency services can respond when an issue arises.
In many locations, you will need more than one permit. You may need a separate permit for police and fire departments, for example. And, these specialised alarm permits would all be different from any permit required for the electrical work necessary to install your system.
Types And Lengths Of Permits
Generally, there are three types of permits you may need to purchase for your security alarm system.
- Police Permit: A police permit registers your alarm system with the local police department.
- Fire Permit: A fire permit records your alarm system with the local fire department.
- Electrical Permit: An electrical license allows you to install a wired alarm system in your home.
Often the police and fire permits will be combined into one “emergency services” permit. Once again, this depends on where you get your permit(s).
What Is The Difference Between An Alarm Permit And An Alarm License?
Though the names sound similar, alarm permits and alarm licenses are very different. An alarm permit registers a home or business alarm system with the city or county.
It provides the alarm system with a unique registration number, which makes it easier for emergency services to contact homeowners. In contrast, an alarm license is issued to alarm monitoring companies, permitting them to operate in the area. As a security system user, you’ll only have to worry about alarm permits and not alarm licenses.
A permit gives you permission to install or operate an alarm in your own home. A license, on the other hand, is required for professional alarm companies that install security systems in other people’s homes.
You won’t need to have an alarm license to DIY the installation of a simple security system in your own home. Still, you will likely need a permit if you’re doing electrical work as part of the install or if the system you install comes with third-party monitoring services and emergency services require permits as a result.
An alarm permit is something that you need to get if required by your local government. An alarm license is something professional installers may need to obtain from an agency before they do any work on your property. If you’re a homeowner, you rarely need a license to install your system. Still, it is a good idea to check local construction, zoning, and homeowner association rules before you begin.
How To Register For An Alarm Permit
Many municipalities don’t require responders to test the security system before registering unless homeowners request so. It’s as simple as agreeing to terms and paying a registration fee. Every area’s alarm permit registration process will vary, but here’s what to expect during enrollment.
- Visit your local municipality's Town Hall or official website for alarm permit guidelines.
- You’ll be provided instructions for registering your security system online or by mail.
- Review and agree to the terms and conditions of your alarm permit, including the definition of a false alarm, fines and appeals.
- Complete the alarm permit application for your home’s security system. Most applications require you to enter the alarm company, address of the alarm and emergency contacts or occupants such as your spouse.
- Submit forms and method of payment. Confirmation and registration may be sent via mail or email and could take up to 10 business days for most municipalities.
Alarm Permit Fees And Fines
The cost of an alarm permit varies based on your local municipality but can range from free to a one-time fee of $30 up to $50. Prices may also change for senior citizens, veterans and businesses.
Once you have a security alarm permit and false alarms sound, you could face fines. Most municipalities excuse the first one to two false alarms without any penalties.
Once you’ve registered your security system, beware of the cost of false alarms. Some municipalities won’t charge for the first two false alarms, but after three false alarms within a calendar year, you could pay anywhere from $50 up to $500.
False alarm fees for fire responders may be higher than police fees because of the heavier lift to bring a fire truck and equipment. Residents and business owners have the right to appeal false alarm fines with their local government or town manager.
Alarm permit fees can vary widely. Some locations, for instance, don’t charge a fee at all. However, most places charge between $25 and $100 for a permit.
Most sites also charge an annual fee, but often that fee is significantly lower than the initial cost of the permit. To find out precisely what sort of fees your area charges, use a non-emergency number to contact your local police or fire department.
Does An Alarm Permit Expire?
Alarm permits do expire in some locales. If your permit expires, you’ll be required to renew it before the deadline — which can mean paying an additional fee. After restarting your permit, make sure to notify your security company if you have a system that uses third-party monitoring.
Some locations offer one-time permit payments that last for the life of your alarm system. for example, it charges a one-time fee of just $10.2. Most cities and counties, however, require annual payments. A $27 signup fee, but annual fees are just $17.4, And you’ll pay $43 to set up your alarm systems, but yearly renewals cost just $11.87.
What Is A False Alarm?
As we point out in our article on home security systems, one of the downsides to having systems is that they can be prone to false alarms.
A false alarm means a warning that was triggered without a real emergency. These usually occur either as a result of an accident or through deliberate deception.
Each year false alarms cost emergency services billions of dollars. Seattle alone estimates that it loses one million dollars each year to false alarms.
And the financial costs, of course, don’t consider that false alarms represent a severe distraction to police and firefighters trying to respond to actual emergencies.
As a result, almost all counties and municipalities charge some fee for false alarms. Sometimes the policy is to waive these fees for a first offence, but multiple violations can result in higher costs.
If you have a home security system that signals an emergency response in any way, such as professional monitoring, it’s defined as a security system and falls under false alarm reduction programs.
False alarms can be defined in many ways, including a family member entering an incorrect code or accidentally setting off the alarm when opening a door or window when the system is armed.
Other false alarms can stem from improper installation, a system glitch or the alarm’s power source - such as low batteries.
If emergency responders arrive and no danger is detected, you could be charged a fine. However, we shared a few exceptions.
Generally speaking, a false alarm occurs when an alarm is triggered by an accident or during a non-emergency.
For example, if someone in your family incorrectly enters the alarm code or opens a window while the alarm is armed, causing the alarm to sound and notifying emergency responders.
False alarms can also happen for technological reasons, like if the alarm’s batteries are low or if the system itself was improperly installed.
Alarms are designed to keep people and their homes safe and protected — and when they’re correctly installed and maintained, they’re beneficial.
But when alarm systems are triggered, and there truly isn’t an emergency — they can cost police and fire departments millions of dollars a year in wasted resources.
False Alarm Fines
Homeowners with a security alarm permit can face fines from the city if their system triggers a false alarm — meaning if the police or fire departments respond to a warning and no danger is detected.
Most cities won’t penalise homeowners for their first offence, but if their system continues to trigger false alarms, the fines can add up — as most fines range from $50 to $500 per false alarm.
Keep in mind, fines for fire department responders can be higher than police fines due to their trucks and equipment.
How To Avoid A False Alarm
Want to avoid paying those hefty false alarm fines and be a responsible citizen while you’re at it? Here are many steps you can take to eliminate false alarms from your security system:
- Make your emergency contacts shared with users on your account. That means that they’ll be able to arm and disarm your system if you can’t. While it’s always important to be careful about who you share your alarm system information with, when more people you know can disarm the system, it’s more likely one of them can shut it down quickly in case a false alarm is imminent.
- Make sure everyone in your home is comfortable arming and disarming your system. Have everyone in your household practice using the system so that there’s less likely that they will make a mistake.
- Issue “guest” passwords to people who are visiting. Most alarm systems can generate a temporary guest password that will allow your friends and relatives to arm and disarm the system themselves safely.
- Save the monitoring company’s number as a contact on your phone. Make sure you have the monitoring company’s phone number stored somewhere in your phone, so it’s handy when you need it. This makes it easier to call and cancel an alarm before emergency services are dispatched.
- Turn on motion sensor sensitivity. False alarms can sometimes be caused by a motion sensor that is set to “high” sensitivity. If you find you have false alarms, you might change the sensitivity to “low.”