How to Get Building Permits in California, U.S?

As per the Census Bureau, US Building Permits are the approval or authorization by the government to legally work on construction projects in permit-issuing places. It is mostly demanded for privately owned housing units.

How to Get Building Permits in California, U.S?

This section discusses the features and detailed procedure to obtain a building permit in the state of California, United States.

Features of California Building Department And Permits

California consists of numerous building departments. As per California Building Standards Code,

no building or structure may be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted, or demolished unless a permit is obtained for each building or structure is obtained from the building official.

The building permits are provided by the state officials by checking whether the building follows the standard code requirements. The standard code requirements for building a structure vary from cities and counties around the state.

How to Apply for California Building Permits?

As per Section R106: 14.05.060,
Submittal documents are prepared to submit along with the permit application. The submittal documents include:
  • Construction documents
  • Statement of special inspections
  • Geotechnical report
  • Other miscellaneous data based on the type of project                                                                  
The submittal documents must be prepared by a registered design professional.      

Note: Exemption in works are mentioned in 14.05.060 Section R106, where the documents need not be prepared by registered design professional.

The general procedure to apply for building permits vary based on the city in California. The basic steps involved are:
  1. Go to the official website of the respective city building department in California. For example: To get a building permit for constructing in Sant Clara, California. First go to the website: Sant Clara Department of Planning and Development. The specific support documents, plans, drawings and other  requirements used for building permits are mentioned in the website. The application form for permit is downloaded from the website. 
  2. Similarly, the application form for each state exists. The links to building planning and department website of all the states in California, are given below.
  3. After forms are filled online and submitted as per the website interface. Some cities demand offline submittals.
  4. Fees​ are calculated based on the size, type and valuation of construction. Plan check & PO           review fees are required at the time of plan submission. Building permit inspection, SMIP, encroachment, geologic review and septic system fees are paid at the time the permit is issued. Fees for plumbing, mechanical and electrical permits are paid at the time those permits are issued.
Processing of your application varies with the seasonal workload and complexity of your project. The plans will be checked for compliance with the California Code of Regulations Title 24, Zoning Ordinance, Health Code, etc. Normal processing takes four to six weeks. Any remaining fees, including the building permit fee, are payable prior to issuance of the building permit, as well as school fees, if applicable. If needed, plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits can be issued with the building permit.

Works Exempted From California Building Permits

The works exempted to have permits in California as per 2010 California Building Code Section 105 – Permits are:
  1. One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11 m2).
  2. Fences not over 6 feet (1829 mm) high.
  3. Oil derricks.
  4. Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet (1219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge or impounding Class I, II or IIIA liquids.
  5. Water tanks supported directly on grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.
  6. Sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above adjacent grade, and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.
  7. Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work.
  8. Temporary motion picture, television and theater stage sets and scenery.
  9. Prefabricated swimming pools accessory to a Group R-3 occupancy that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep, do not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and are installed entirely above ground.
  10. Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agricultural purposes, not including service systems.
  11. Swings and other playground equipment accessory to detached one- and two-family dwellings.
  12. Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches (1372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support of Groups R-3 and U occupancies.
  13. Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches (1753 mm) in height.

Important Consideration for Building Permits in California

  1. California strictly demands building permits for new construction or remodeling of a real property at business or home. The type of permit required varies based on the type of construction and city where the property is located.
  2. Building permits are required for buildings that are constructed newly or are undergoing remodeling works.
  3. Building permits are not required for cosmetics work like painting, installing new faucets etc. 
  4. It is desirable to have a check with each city codes and regulations.

Expiration of California Building Permits

As per 15.06.025 Section R105.5, California Building Code:
Every permit issued shall become invalid unless the work authorized by such permit is commenced within 180 days after its issuance or after commencement of work if more than 180 days pass between inspections. The building official is authorized to grant, in writing, one or more extensions of time, for periods not more than 180 days each. The extension shall be requested in writing and justifiable cause demonstrated.

Types of Building Permits in California

Different permits and licenses for construction in California include:

  1. Building Permits
  2. Grading Permits
  3. Electrical Permits
  4. Plumbing Permits
  5. Mechanical Permits
  6. Landscaping Permits
  7. Sign Permits
  8. Demolition Permits

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