Vilas County Zoning - FAQ

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:

  1. Sanitary Permit (applied for on your behalf by your Wisconsin licensed plumber).
  2. Well Permit (from Wisconsin DNR).
  3. Town Zoning Permit (if applicable).
  4. County Zoning Permit.
  5. 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 (updated 1/15/2018)
List of Wisconsin licensed plumbers
List of Wisconsin Certified Soil Testers
Town and UDC Contacts
List of Deputy Zoning Administrators 

2.)  What do I need a permit for?  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.  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 town and obtaining licensure through the Vilas County Public Health Department.

4.)  Can I have a camper on my property?  Camping on a residential 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? Most 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.  Please note that Vilas County requires the owner's original signature on all applications.  Faxed or e-mailed signatures are not accepted.

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.


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?  Pobably.  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 site or in the sidebar to the right. 

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.

5.)  How long is a soil test good for?  Vilas County accepts soil tests which have been performed anytime after 1980 providing soil profiles were completed.  Soil tests completed after 1980 have no expiration date. However, site concerns may render older soil tests unusable so consult your 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 is 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 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.) withing the dwelling.  Privies require permits through the Zoning Department.

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 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.  

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.

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