Attaining Your Building Permit: Eleven Keys to Success

building-codeOver the years we have had success in obtaining permits both within our local region, outside of our region, and in other states outside of California. Obtaining a building permit, whether for a residence or for a commercial project, can be either a time-consuming and costly process fraught with serious difficulties and uncertainties, or a relatively efficient and well-defined process. We measure our success in obtaining permits by all those many permit applications in which we provided excellent service to avoid the so-called “minefields” the uninitiated might encounter during the permit process.

Here are some keys we’ve identified over the years to help guide you in towards a more streamlined and straightforward permit process:

1.   Meet Staff Early On: Identify key, knowledgeable staff at the local jurisdiction to orient you to their permit process. Meet with them. Do this early in the process.

2.   Don’t Change Staff: Once you find the most knowledgeable and appropriate staff person, work only with that same person. Don’t “cherry-pick” other staff for their help, it only creates confusion and misunderstandings.

3.   Identify Contingent Approvals: Once the critical path to permit processing is identified, map it carefully. Identify any contingent approvals which may be necessary to the primary application, and attend to them. If necessary, bring in any outside consultants necessary to the task.

4.   Do Your Homework: Having met staff and made initial identification of key code and ordinances which pertain, do the necessary research to understand and implement those which apply.

5.   Document Everything: As critical code and ordinances are identified, make copies of them, highlight the critical verbiage, and keep them in a dedicated file.

6.   Conduct Periodic Review: In preparing the permit documentation (Drawings and Specifications), periodically review your progress in preparing the documents against the initial assumptions made and the key codes and ordinances you’ve been keeping in your dedicated file.

7.   Interpretations Are Consensus-Based: If a critical code or zoning interpretation emerges during your research or documentation, seek out the key staff person best able to render a reliable opinion, and meet with them. Lay out your interpretation, obtain their opinion, and arrive at a consensus.

8.   Get It In Writing: if you do need to obtain a critical interpretation, encourage the staff person to either sign off on the understanding arrived at, either in the meeting or via follow-up Email.

9.   Make The Staff person Your Partner: work collaboratively with your staff person, not at cross purposes. By working collaboratively with them, you bring them onto the team working towards the common goal of getting the building to happen.

10.       If You Disagree: If you disagree about an interpretation rendered, don’t take it personally. Attempt to persuade them as to your informed viewpoint, supporting it as necessary with reasoned experience. But if you are not successful in doing so, you’ll need to respect their position.

11.       Elevate: If you cannot obtain the interpretation most conducive to the desired result, consider elevating the item to their supervisor. If you elect to do so, proceed with in a professional manner, letting the staff person know that you are doing so, and your reasons. Blindsiding staff by going over their head without their knowledge is almost certain to backfire. Proceeding in an upfront, direct, and open manner is far more likely to produce the desired result.

Naturally, this article only scratches the surface in terms of the entire gamut of issues and procedures attending successful permit processing, and in no way do we want to oversimplify all the variables accruing to your permit process.

But hopefully we’ve shed some light on some of the “big picture” issues as well as the subtler nuances which may guide you to your success.

Have a permit challenge? We’re available to help. If a consultation with us would be helpful, don’t hesitate to call or write. The Email is and the phone number is (831) 462.9138. We’re here to be of service.

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