How to Obtain Building Permits

The building permit process can be a very tedious process for developers, home owners, and the like.  Many new clients that we encounter have a misconception on the time and money it takes to carry out their construction project.  The first question that needs to be answered, is does your project need a building permit?  Depending on the scope of the project and the jurisdiction that your site is in, will determine the answer to this question.

If for example, you are a homeowner and you want to do a simple kitchen upgrade of replacing the existing cabinetry and countertops, then you probably can avoid getting building permits.  But lets say the same homeowner wants to completely renovate the kitchen and perhaps remove some walls to expand the kitchen, add more counter space and even relocate the location of the new appliances.  In this scenario, the owner will most likely be required to obtain building permits.

A simple way to distinguish the difference, is to ask yourself, does this project affect the existing structure (removal of load bearing walls), changes in the electrical (new lighting, outlets, switches, etc), changes in the plumbing (relocating the sink, dishwasher, or refrigerator), and changes in the HVAC system (new duct work).  The last important thing to mention here is that, the building permit process is much more expensive since there will be all the pre-construction costs such as architect/engineer expenses, the City plan check fees, and the building permit fees.  So before you even start construction an owner may accrue thousands of dollars of expenses on the plans and all the City fees just to pull a building permit.  Lastly, the time required to get the permits could be anywhere from a few days (the smallest of projects) to over a year (on bigger projects in strict jurisdictions).

Below are the steps to successfully obtain building permits:
1)  Speak to a planner and see what you’re allowed to build and see if your project goal is within the zoning limitations.  All you need to do is simply go to the building/planning department which is nearby City Hall or maybe the County if your project site is in an unincorporated territory.  Ask to speak to a planner and they should be able to assist you from there.

2)  Hire an architect, an engineer or a design-build company to design your project and to prepare all the construction drawings/documents that the City or County will require in order to obtain your permits.  Keep in mind, that an architect or engineer may require that a soils report and survey may be done prior to them working on the project if you plan on expanding the building footprint or if the project is a brand new building on an empty lot.  The first step will be an initial site visit to survey the existing building and/or site to take dimensions, pictures, etc., to document the existing conditions of the site and develop base drawings where they can then propose new design options to the client.

3)  Work side by side with the designer on the project from the very beginning.  Each company bills differently, but the more information that you provide to the designer, the quicker the result and the less money you’ll be charged.  If you are a very indecisive person, you will probably be spending more money than necessary in the design phase of the project, but it is much worse if you change your mind during the construction process because the change orders are much more costly.

4)  Plan for the unexpected consultant fees.  In most cases, especially when you a hire an architect, they will need to hire outside consultants to submit a final set of drawings.  These consultants consist of structural engineers, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) engineers, and any other special consultants that may be needed per project.  The architect may charge the client additional for these consultants or the owner has the option of going under contract with those consultants separate from the architect.  In either case, it is important that the client understand the design process and be aware of the additional consultant expenses when they are budgeting for their project.

5)  Submit drawings, plan check application and pay plan check fee.  Once all the drawings and documents are complete and ready to be submitted, the owner will need to fill out the Plan Check application and pay the pertinent fees.  Typically, the Planning Department and Building & Safety Departments at a minimum need to review the drawings to see if they meet the zoning ordinances and building codes, respectively.  Other jurisdictions have more departments that may review the plans so the owner may need to submit more drawing sets.  In some cases, especially on smaller projects, they will actually be able to do an over-the -counter review, which will expedite the process.

6) Revise the drawings (if necessary) and resubmit.  In most cases, the designer will have some comments from the City that will need to be addressed.  They will simply need to make the changes and resubmit.

7) Pay the building permit fees.  Once the City or County approves the drawings and other submitted documents, then the owner is ready to obtain the building permit.  Simply pay the outstanding fees, which can vary from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.  A rule of thumb to consider, the nicer the city and bigger the project, the more expensive the building permit will usually be.  Sometimes, there are many hidden fees that are included here.  Such as an Art Program fee, Waste & Recycle deposit, Low-Income Fee, Educational Fee, etc.  Some cities like to impose additional fees in order for an owner to get their building permit.  However, most of these fees are for brand new developments.

These steps do not apply to all projects, but it is a good account of what typically happens on most of the projects that we have encountered in the greater Los Angeles area.  Good luck on your next construction project and please do not hesitate to call us for our services.  We are always looking to attract new projects and build on our clientele.

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About cloghmani3182
An aspiring architect that currently works for L.A. Design Group.

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