Frequently Asked Zoning Questions
1.) I want to build a house on my property. What permits do I need? Dwellings generally require the following permits in the following order:
- Sanitary Permit (applied for on your behalf by your Wisconsin licensed plumber).
- Well Permit (applied for to Wisconsin DNR on your behalf by your well installer).
- Town Zoning Permit (Arbor Vitae, Lac du Flambeau, Land o' Lakes, Manitowish Waters, Presque Isle and St. Germain only).
- Vilas County Zoning Permit.
- Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC) Permit (often called a Building Permit) from Town building inspector.
A list of helpful documents is available below.
Downloadable and Printable Permit Checklist
Vilas County Zoning Permit Application
List of Wisconsin licensed plumbers
List of Wisconsin Certified Soil Testers
Town and UDC Contacts (updated 8/6/2019)
List of Deputy Zoning Administrators
2.) Do I need a permit for my project? Permits are required in Vilas County for all new structures or alterations to the building envelope, including but not limited to houses, additions, commercial structures, garages, sheds, decks, and porches, as well as most land disturbance activites such as driveways, paths, filling and grading. Rebuilding structure, changes of use and demolitions also require pemits. The application can be downloaded by clicking here.
3.) Can I rent my home? Generally yes, barring any deed restrictions, restrictive convenants or subdivision or condominium rules. All rentals for a term of less than thirty (30) days require paying room tax to your local municipality and obtaining licensure through the Vilas County Public Health Department. Rentals in the Single Family Residential (R-1) zoning district may not be for a term of less than seven (7) days. Please be aware that in some cases rental licenses may be issued allowing for more beds than the septic system serving the property is designed to accomodate. This can lead to premature failure of the septic system. Contact the Deputy Zoning Administrator for your town for more information.
4.) Can I have a camper on my property? Camping on a property in Vilas County requires three things: Written permission from the Town, a code compliant POWTS; and a zoning permit to set the camper on the property. Contact the zoning office for more information.
5.) What can I do on my property? A chart showing permitted uses for each of our zoning districts is available by clicking here. If you have questions about a specific use on a specific property, please contact the Deputy Zoning Administrator for that town.
6.) How do I get an address? Address applications are available from your local town clerk. A list of town contacts can be found by clicking here. Questions about addresses can be directed to the Vilas County Mapping Department at (715) 479-3755.
7.) How long does it take to get a permit? Many permits can be issued in the office while you wait. Permits submitted by mail, or which require site visits by office staff are generally issued within 7-10 days. Incomplete applications, heavy demand, or other issues may cause the process to take longer. Climatic conditions - especially in winter and spring - may also cause a delay in permit issuance, especially when the permit requires a site visit, wetland, or Ordinary High Water Mark determination.
8.) Can I clear my shoreline? Generally, no. In Vilas County, no tree cutting, vegetation removal, or land disturbance is permitted within thirty-five (35) feet of the water, with some limited exceptions. Contact the Deputy Zoning Administrator for your town to discuss what activities are permitted along your shoreline.
9.) I have an early start permit from the state for my commercial structure. Can I get an early start permit from Vilas County? No. Vilas County will not issue a zoning permit for a commercial structure until state plan approval for the entire structure has been granted, and all applicable sanitary permits have been issued.
10.) What is considered a habitable structure? Any structure arranged for sleeping or the preparation of meals is considered a habitable structure and will have to meet all of the necessary requirements.
Frequently Asked Septic Questions
1.) What does POWTS mean? POWTS is an acronym for Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System, which is commonly referred to as a septic system.
2.) Can I install my own POWTS? If not, who can? In Wisconsin, homeowners may not install their own POWTS. By law, only Wisconsin licensed plumbers may do so. A list of licensed plumbers serving Vilas County can be found by clicking here.
3.) Can I get a map of where my POWTS is located or information on how it is constructed? Probably. Some POWTS were installed prior to permitting requirements so Vilas County has no records on file. If we do have information regarding your POWTS, it can be accessed by contacting the Zoning Office at (715) 479-3620. Additionally, permits issued after January 1, 1985 may be accessed by using the permit lookup feature on the Vilas County Mapping Department GIS site.
4.) Has a soil test already been done on my property? Vilas County has an extensive collection of soil tests on file going back as far as 1980. However, not all soil tests are submitted to the County, so although the work may have been completed, the results may not be on file. Contact the Sanitary Desk at (715) 479-3619 to see if a soil test has been filed for your property. Soil tests may also be accessed by using the sanitary permit lookup feature on the Vilas County Mapping Department GIS site or in the sidebar to the right. As of July 1, 2018 soil tests performed prior to 1993 are generally no longer accepted for the installation of new POWTS as they derive their loading rates from percolation rates.
5.) How long is a soil test good for? As of July 1, 2018 Vilas County generally does not accept soil tests performed prior to 1993 for the installation of new POWTS as they derive loading rates from percolation rates. Otherwise soil tests do not have an expiration date. Site concerns may render older soil tests unusable so consult your Wisconsin licensed plumber before assuming an older soil test will be sufficient for installation of a new or replacement POWTS.
6.) How long does it take to get a permit? Once a permit application is submitted to the Zoning Office, it generally takes 3-10 days to receive a sanitary permit. Incomplete applications, heavy demand, or other issues may cause the process to take longer.
7.) Can I have a holding tank on my property? Vilas County requires that if a property is able to support an in-ground seepage system - commonly called a conventional system - then an in-ground seepage system must be installed. Holding tanks are only permitted if the property would require some other advanced type of POWTS (such as a mound or at-grade system), or if there is not sufficient room for a convenitonal system.
8.) Can I have an privy (outhouse) on my property? Privies are permitted in Vilas County only when there are no plumbing fixtures (i.e. sink, faucet, piping, etc.) within the dwelling. Privies require permits through the Zoning Department for both the below ground tank or pit, and the above ground building.
9.) I received a Sanitary Maintenance Card in the mail. What do I do now? Hire a Wisconsin licensed plumber, pumper or inspector to service your POWTS. A list of plumbers is available by clicking here, and a list of pumpers and inspectors is available by clicking here.
10.) Why do I need to get my POWTS serviced? Vilas County requires your POWTS to be either pumped or inspected once every three (3) years. There is no exception for seasonal properties. If the tank is less than 1/3 full of sludge and scum, then an inspection will suffice, otherwise pumping is required. Regular servicing of your POWTS will help ensure that any operational or functional problems are discovered and addressed at an early stage.
11.) I received a letter stating that I need to be enrolled into the Maintenance Program, but I already receive a maintenance card. What should I do? Vilas County has certain requirements for POWTS which were installed prior to July 1, 1980. They are required to be pumped or inspected every three years, which is why you receive a card. However, in order to determine if the appropriate soil conditions exist for proper operation of a POWTS, Vilas County requires a single soil boring to be completed on these older POWTS in certain situations. If you received a letter requiring this, please contact a Wisconsin Certified Soil Tester to complete the work. A list is available by clicking here.