What You Should Know About Retroactive Permits & How to Get One?

Are you selling your home and getting the short end of the stick because of past unpermitted work?

Did your neighbors report you for failing to get the permits you need?

These days, both scenarios are common enough, and there are plenty of reasons your project may have gone without the building department’s green light. Maybe it seemed like a little DIY job, and you didn’t even think you’d need a permit. Or, your home’s previous owner remodeled without permits, and you didn’t think to inspect the home or inquire about permits before the transaction. Perhaps, a sketchy contractor has led you astray.

Read: How to get Permit for New House.

Regardless, it is an excellent decision to correct the situation and legalize unpermitted work. Once your paperwork is in order, you can sell or refinance your home without worry and live without fear of city inspectors. What’s more important – you will know that you and your family are SAFE in your home.

What are the requirements for a retroactive building permit?

A retroactive building permit application is much like a regular one, as it allows the Building Department to confirm that the work complies with all current codes (not ones in effect during construction). To this end, building officials will review your project’s as-built drawings and inspect the work.

Which documents should I prepare?

Depending on the work performed, you may have to submit architectural, structural, as well as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) drawings with your application. These must reflect the dimensions, geometry, and location of all elements as they were after construction was completed. Because many of these elements are concealed behind drywall, verifying their layout is often a challenging task.

The drawings must be legible and drafted to recognized architectural standards. Depending on the project, your drawings may need the stamp of a registered architect or licensed engineer;

Besides drawings, your retroactive building permit application may require supporting documents, such as structural calculations, Title 24 report and calculations, and the CALGreen compliance form. Your building department may also ask for a qualified testing agency’s written confirmation that steel reinforcement has been installed per the approved plans if reinforced concrete was used on the project.

Read: Why Structural Calculations are Important in Design

What do inspections entail?

Normally, building officials inspect certain building elements during construction. If you are applying for a retroactive building permit, officials will want to inspect the completed work to verify its conformance to the drawings you submitted and to the applicable codes and standards.

If the unpermitted work involved an addition, the inspector might wish to assess:

  • the setbacks;
  • the foundation and its attachment to the structure;
  • cripple walls, shear walls, and structural connections.

To facilitate the inspection, you should visually expose pertinent components before your scheduled inspection date.

If your project involves a new foundation, expose a portion of it so that the size and depth can be determined. Make sure the inspector has access to the means of attachment of the foundation to the structure, including all anchor bolts and hold-down devices.

The inspector will also want to see all new structural members and their connections, and you may have to remove both interior and exterior wall coverings to allow visual access.

Braced wall panels and the associated shear nailing are subject to rigorous scrutiny during inspections as they are critical to a building’s seismic soundness. If these components were added, taken out, or altered during your project, you must remove a large enough section of the adjacent siding or roofing material to let a licensed engineer perform a visual assessment. The engineer must provide a written confirmation that the shear plywood complies with the current adaption of the building code and the approved plans.

After the inspection, building officials may still request a licensed engineer’s written confirmation that the new work is structurally sound.

If your project involves any MEP work, the inspector will want access to new or altered ducts, wires, and pipes.

If a new electrical system was installed, uncover all its components before the inspection by removing cover plates from receptacles, fixtures, subpanels, and services. Pull receptacles and switches out of all boxes and take off drywall from stud bays with electrical service boxes and subpanels.

If the unpermitted work affected changes to a kitchen or bathroom, be sure to remove wall coverings and give the inspector a chance to examine all supply and waste fittings. New or altered kitchen loop vents should also be visible during the inspection, and new gas lines have to be pressure-tested.

After the inspection, the building department may still ask for a licensed engineer’s written confirmation that all MEP systems meet the current code adaptations.

Besides assessing structural and MEP installations, the inspector will want to verify that the work in question adheres to the California Energy Efficiency Standards and CALGreen. As these standards affect a broad range of construction activities, it’s best to seek professional advice to identify parts of your building that may require an inspection.

Know more about Structural Engineering Inspection

How can I prepare for a retroactive building permit application?

As with regular permit applications, the drawings and the work itself will be assessed for compliance. Submitting quality, accurate as-built drawings will facilitate the building department’s job of evaluating your project and may save you from unnecessary revision cycles.

You should also accept the possibility that changes may be ordered to bring your project up to current standards. Unlike with regular permit applications, you won’t be able to revise the design before construction starts and may need to deconstruct and rebuild parts of your project.

To save time and money, your best bet is to hire a licensed design professional. A registered architect or licensed engineer can assist you by:

  • preparing accurate as-built drawings of the work, stamped and signed if needed
  • compiling the necessary supporting documents, such as structural calculations, Title 24 report, etc.
  • responding to building officials’ feedback
  • identifying elements, you should get ready for inspection
  • finding an efficient means of rectifying non-compliant work
  • drafting all required drawings for any rework

Our team of engineers has worked on various types of structural and civil projects in California for the past 14 years, and if you need a retroactive permit for your project, we can help. Contact us today for a FREE quote and consultation. We can also connect you with a professional engineer or designer right away for a virtual consultation or virtual on-site!

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