Building Permits FAQ
Permitting is a fact of life in construction, but it’s also the area where people seem to have the most questions. Which types of projects require a permit? Where do you go? What sort of supporting documentation does your permit require? What happens if you fail to get a permit? Is there a difference between permitting for residential and commercial projects? The following building permit FAQ answers all of your questions, as well as the ones you never thought to ask.
What is a Building Permit?
We’ll start with the basics: What is a building permit? Building permits represent official approval from your local government (typically city or county) to complete your project. They are intended to guarantee that your project complies with local regulations surrounding construction, land use, and zoning. These regulations ensure the safety of the building’s occupants, integrity of the area as a whole, and protection of area resources.
Building permits address a variety of issues, including local utilities (water and sewer lines, electrical services, and sanitation), the structural integrity and safety of the building itself, and zoning.
Why Do You Need a Permit?
At their basic level, building permits are intended to ensure the safety of those living or working within the building. Exposed electrical wires could result in electrocution. Additions and extensive remodels could seriously compromise the building’s structural integrity. Construction materials may not meet fire codes.
Building permits also protect you in the future. For example, if you decide to sell your home in the future and its square footage doesn’t match official records, the sale is likely to fall through. Then, you’d have to obtain a retroactive permit, typically a costly, time-consuming process that often requires you to demolish the work already performed. And, of course, repeat the renovation according to local regulations. You may also face a variety of legal troubles, ranging from fines to lawsuits, for work completed without proper permits.
Before any project, always check the permitting requirements with your local government office, including city, state, and county. Remember, building codes and regulations change so check every time, even if you’ve completed a renovation in the past.
When Do You Need a Permit?
Most U.S. jurisdictions follow guidelines found in the International Building Code (IBC). So, when in doubt, you can refer to the IBC (or your local building department).
However, there are some basic guidelines for when a permit is usually required:
- Adding fireplaces
- Additions or structural modifications to an existing living space
- Electrical modifications
- Enlarging window openings
- Installing mechanical systems
- Major demolitions
- Plumbing work (including replacing items such as water heaters)
- Roofline modifications
- Sewer modifications
Permitting needs vary by locality and change over time. Some items that used to not require a permit but now do in many areas include replacing appliances, plumbing, and lighting fixtures. Other items depend on individual project details, such as the extent of the work as well as its design and location. This includes exterior work such as building a fence or retaining wall, removing trees, or adding a deck.
Most interior cosmetic changes do not require a permit. This includes flooring changes, painting, and installing wall treatments such as paneling and crown molding. However, always check with your local building department to be sure.
Where to Go to Get Your Permit
In the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area, where you go depends on your city. For convenience, we offer the following links:
- Apache Junction
- Queen Creek
- Maricopa County
- Pinal County
What Are Commercial Permits?
There are two basic types of building permits: commercial and residential. Commercial permits are required when the property on which the structure is located is zoned for industrial or commercial use or if commercial activities occur within the building.
Submittal requirements vary greatly depending on the project and agency supplying the permit. For example, Maricopa County provides a 15-page document detailing the information they require to issue a commercial building permit. They also provide a checklist of requirements for commercial site plans and commercial building plans.
Information Needed to Obtain and Process Commercial Building Permits in the City of Phoenix
The following are the permitting requirements from the City of Phoenix as of December 2017.
- Two complete sets of plans (drawn to scale)
- The Arizona Board of Technical Registration may require sign-off by an Arizona-registered and –licensed engineer or architect
- Includes site and floorplan; plumbing, electrical, and structural drawings; and mechanical plan
- Project scope may require additional specifications, calculations, and drawings
- A description of the project, such as whether it’s a remodel or new construction
- A description of the business
- Legal description of the property, including:
- Project address
- Lot and block number
- Description of meets and bounds
- The owner’s information, including name, contact number/person, and mailing address
- The contractor’s information, including name, address, and phone number
- The contractor’s license number, city privilege tax information, and state privilege tax information
Before requesting a commercial building permit, ensure the site complies with zoning requirements. This typically includes:
- Distance between structure and property line
- The percentage of the site covered by structures
- Structure height
- On-site uses (i.e. office, retail, restaurant)
- Aisles for parking and driveways
A complete site plan that includes landscaping typically expedites the review process.
You must schedule an inspection upon completion of each element of construction. If you do not pass inspection, corrections must occur and a re-inspection take place before the next phase may begin. The final inspection occurs upon project completion. Once approved, you receive a Certificate of Occupancy.
Residential permits are required for buildings and properties not intended or zoned for commercial use. As with commercial permits, requirements vary according to the project and municipality in question.
Information Needed to Obtain and Process a Residential Permit in the City of Phoenix
As of December 2017, the following describes residential building permit requirements by the City of Phoenix. This is only to offer an idea of what you can expect as requirements vary according to your location.
Remodeling and Additions
You must submit your completed application and two complete sets of building plans for staff to review. Most minor projects receive an “over the counter” permit. However, if the project requires further review, you pay the required fee and provide any additional information requested.
Once staff reviews your plans they either approve the plans as-is or request corrections. If corrections are requested, you must make them and resubmit. Upon approval, you pay the fee and receive your building permit.
New Home Construction and Additions
Requirements for new construction and additions include:
- Proposed building plans (two complete sets)
- Completed application
- Calculations and plot plan
Staff reviews your submittal and collects required review fees. They may also request additional information before reviewing your plans.
During plan review, they’re checking for code compliance, approved site plan conditions, and design review requirements. If required, you make any necessary corrections and resubmit. Once your plans are approved, the City notifies you. Then, you pay the required fee and receive your residential building permit.