California Building Permit Requirements

Put simply, a building permit is permission you and your builder need to go ahead with any renovations, extensions, or new builds on your property. You need to obtain this approval from the appropriate local authority before the commencement of works.

The project plans and documentation will need to be submitted and the regulator will assess the viability, safety, and compliance of every aspect of the proposed project before granting approval in writing. Naturally, there will be fees involved for these assessments. You should budget around $1200 on average, however, there may be further adjustments required if anything is found to be not up to standard building codes.

California Building Permit Requirements

Most of us are aware that the State of California Building Standards Code stipulates you must obtain a separate permit for every structure or building, you intend to:

· Build

· Erect

· Enlarge

· Extend

· Alter

· Move

· Improve

· Convert

· Demolish

· Remove

However, there are several different building departments in California, and code requirements may differ from region to region between cities and counties. You or your builder will need to check with the local authority that governs your area to ascertain what building codes and zoning apply.

In a nutshell, for California, building permits and inspections are a requirement for new buildings, attached or detached buildings and structures, both residential and non-residential, that have a floor area over 120 square feet. Construction of anything less than 120 square feet in an area does not require a building permit, as long as it does not include plumbing, electrical or mechanical fittings.

California building permit requirements

When Do You Not Need A Permit?

There are some gray areas where people aren’t sure if a permit would be required or not. For instance, where you want to make some improvements or remodeling on a building on your property. You do not need to apply for a building permit if the scope of work only includes:

·       Update plumbing fittings

·       Updating electrical appliances and white goods

·       Interior or exterior painting

·       Tiling or re-tile with wall tiles

·       Install new countertops

·       Removing or replacing cabinetry

·       Make minor electrical or plumbing repairs

·       Replace or install new floor coverings

·       Install trim and paneling

So, in essence, upgrading your cabinetry, countertops, and fittings in the same position as before will not need a permit. However, you need to be aware that remodeling wet areas like a kitchen, laundry, or bathroom, if any walls and services like plumbing and electrical need to be added, relocated, or removed, you will probably need a permit and you need to make the appropriate inquiries. New additions to your building like windows and doors, often require a permit. In general, though, your contractor should be experienced enough to know all the regulations and they can guide you.

You can add a home extension of fewer than six meters, or up to eight meters if your house is detached, without requiring planning permission. However, it may pay to check on your local authority building codes before you proceed. If you wish to construct a garage or carport on your property, you will need a building permit in California. The same requirement applies to any non-habitable structure like decks, sheds, gazebos, cabanas, or workshops that you plan to build if it exceeds 120 square feet in area.

Decks need a building permit if they exceed 200 square feet in floor area and if they are over 30 inches above ground level when attached to a building. A floating or freestanding deck, however, which is not attached to any structure or dwelling, does not require a building permit unless they are more than 30 inches above ground level.

What happens if you build without applying for a permit?

You need to make sure you don’t skip the approval process before starting your construction project because, when discovered, the costs can prove expensive. Work that is done without approvals can result in disciplinary action against the contractor and penalties for the property owner.  You risk being subjected to an order of correction by the local building department that requires payment of permit fees and any assessed penalties imposed due to the breach of regulations. Furthermore, if the work done is assessed and found to not comply with standards and codes, there will be additional costs where you are directed to make reparations.

Even if your work is not brought to the attention of your local authority at the time, it can prove messy down the track when you come to selling your property to move on. Prospective buyers are within their rights to request planning approvals for any work done on your property, and they often do. Sales can fall through if it is discovered that work has been undertaken without the appropriate government approvals and permits. It simply is not worth it.

I am sure we all understand that these enforceable regulations have been put in place to protect us, the homeowner, our families, and our visitors, and any future new owners. Building codes and standards ensure that all construction projects comply with sensible and safe practices that make the finished product safe, fit for purpose, and durable against the elements for the foreseeable future. In other words, it’s in our best interests to insist that our builders and contractors, or DIY, gain the appropriate approvals and deliver a project within accepted building standards.