Everything You Need to Know About Building Permits in California

As a homeowner or a person interested in building their new home in California, you may be unaware of how much effort needs to go into the permitting process and the overall project. Questions come to mind like – What do I need to build a house? Can I just start building without a permit? Do I need a permit? What activities or parts of the project need a permit? All of these questions lead to the discussion of building permits in California.

This article aims to break down every aspect of a building permit for anyone who wants to understand its primary elements.  For a more guided article on the home building permit process, please take a look at the article How do I Get the Permit to Build My New Home in California.

What is a Building Permit?

A building permit is authorization from a city or county giving permission to construct or build a project. Building permits are required for not only new construction projects but also renovation and remodeling projects. The building permit is put in place to allow a local jurisdiction to assess the compliance of the building and construction process based on the health and safety requirements of the applicable codes.

What Requires a Building Permit?

Local jurisdictions make the regulatory decisions for the areas within their boundary. Regulatory decisions include the standards and requirements, also known as the laws of the land. This basically entails that the building permit requirements for each area depending on the local building codes. California is more authoritarian regarding environmental regulations, but each municipality interprets those regulations for their specific area. Overall, the following list will show what type of projects will more than likely require a building permit:

  • Demolition of an existing building
  • Roof replacement
  • Plumbing, electrical and mechanical replacement
  • Adding an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) or a junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU). This includes converting existing rooms to ADU’s. For example, converting a garage to an ADU.
  • Changing the layout of a house
  • The addition or removal of exterior walls

Building permits are needed in all cases for new buildings. An important thing to note is that additional permits can be required based on the scope of the complete project. These additional permits can be stormwater, electrical, plumbing, grading, and mechanical permits. The best way to ensure a building permit is required is by reaching out to the permitting department of the local jurisdiction. Consulting with the permit department will alleviate any concern on whether or not a permit is needed and what type of permit is needed. Also, it is important to contact skilled professionals when trying to determine what part of the project requires a permit and what needs to be done to obtain the permits. Design Everest has a team that can begin this process and makes sure the process goes smoothly.

Getting the Building Permit

As mentioned earlier, the best way to decide on getting a building permit is by engaging with the local jurisdiction on their specific requirements. There are some fundamental aspects of obtaining a building permit. Listed below are the steps to getting a building permit processed:

  • Submit a permit application to the building official/building department
    • This process may include specific building plans and studies. To properly submit a building permit application, contact a specialist to assist.
  • Prepare the applicable plan drawings. Hire a qualified architect and other professionals to assist in creating the building layout and meet building setbacks and zoning regulations.
  • Prepare for the plan approval process. The plan approval process can be over-the-counter at the building department, or it can take an allotted period of time to review the plans based on the project’s scope. Building plans can also go through an iteration process, where the plan reviewer provides comments, and the plan must be revised to address those comments before an approval is issued.
  • Obtain the permit. Getting the permit means the city or county has given the authorization to build and/or construct the project. This must be obtained prior to any construction taking place.
  • Schedule the building inspections. Once construction takes place, inspections to verify that the plans are being followed will need to be scheduled with the building official.
  • Final Approval. Upon completion, the city and county will provide final approval.
    • Plan changes that occurred during construction are typically documented and assessed by the building department. The homeowner must update the plans in line with modifications done during construction.

Each jurisdiction has its own building permit process, but the steps above occur when receiving a building permit at some point.

Who is Responsible for the Permit?

The process above seems very involved for a homeowner or developer, so in most cases, a contractor will be hired and tasked with obtaining the building permits on a construction project. The contractor is employed for the construction phase, so they should be responsible for the building permit and the scheduling of inspections throughout the process. The person who pulls the permit will be considered responsible and liable for any damages from the standpoint of the city or county, so hiring a professional licensed contractor is recommended. Check out the article 5 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Contractor to learn about that process. In the case of a simple scope, it may be cost-saving to submit the permit application and pull the permits yourself; however, identify the scope and determine if the project requires a contractor based on the complexity.

I Forgot to Get a Permit…

Most licensed, ethical contractors will advise against skipping out on obtaining the proper building permits, but for the sake of assessment, let us discuss what will happen if a building permit is not pulled. The city or county will likely open a code compliance case against the construction projects that do not have the appropriate building permit. This case can result in fees or the city or county requiring the project to obtain the proper building permit within a set time frame. Retroactively obtaining a permit can result in having to tear down work already completed or ending up with a smaller allowable building space. Also, unpermitted work is typically not allowed to be considered in a property value appraisal. It is important to get the permits in time to avoid unnecessary hassles leading to wasted time and money.

Ready to Get Building!

Building permits are needed in all new construction projects and most renovation projects in the state of California. The building permit process varies based on the city or county, the project is being proposed in, but this article provided general information applicable to all building permit processes. The next step in getting the building permit to start a project is determining the professionals needed for the scope of work. Design Everest’s team can assist in consulting the building department to obtain the necessary permits and drafting building plans for the project you have in mind. Call (877) 959-5914 to get a free quote and consultation today.

Building permits play a vital role in ensuring the safety, compliance, and quality of construction projects in California. At Design Everest, we understand
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