How To File A Building Permit For Residential Construction

  • 5 min read

When taking on a building project, one of the most important steps is to file a building permit. There are over 3,600 counties in the US, each of which has its own process to file for a building permit, although most processes share similar requirements. Keep reading to learn more about how to file for a building permit for residential construction, and why getting a building permit yourself may help you secure a good general contractor.

Before you file a building permit…

The very first thing you have to know before you file a building permit is who has jurisdiction over the property. Is it the county? Is it the city? Is it the state? Depending on the jurisdiction, your building permit may require sign-offs from additional agencies. For example, if you’re looking to file a building permit for a property that is close to protected wetlands which the state has jurisdiction over, you may need approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Another example is if you’re planning to add driveway access to the roadway, you may need approval from the road district. Before you as much as place a bale of hay, make sure you know the jurisdiction and the specific requirements of the overseeing authority.

Meet with the planning and zoning department in your jurisdiction

Unlike courts that legally cannot provide advice, the planning and zoning department wants to help you plan your project! Especially if you come to them as a civilian, the planning and zoning department will help walk you through your building permit process. However, don’t go to them empty-handed. Come up with a blueprint for your project, or at least a rough outline of your building plans to get feedback from the department before filing the building permit. They may tell you that your plans are too close to a property line, or you may find that there is a prohibiting factor. The takeaway here is that it’s a good idea to get feedback from the planning and zoning department before you spend the time and money designing a project that may not meet the standards of the jurisdiction.

Get feedback from neighboring property owners

Some jurisdictions require that you notify surrounding property owners of impending building permits and construction, and some don’t. However, it’s common courtesy to notify neighboring property owners of any building or zoning changes to your property. If an official notification process is not required for your building permit, still let your neighbors know of the upcoming construction. Depending on the scope of the project, they may have feedback or want to temporarily relocate. It’s better to let them know in advance rather than them waking up one day to surprise jackhammering.

Get a building insurance policy

Contrary to popular belief, the homeowner’s insurance policy usually doesn’t cover building activities or even basic liability for this type of activity. If you’re renting equipment, your homeowner’s insurance policy will not cover it. Before you even start moving equipment or materials to the building site, get a good builder’s insurance policy to cover any liabilities. 

How to get a building permit approved

To make sure that your building permit gets approved, first make sure that you meet the guidelines of the jurisdiction and that you know which jurisdiction oversees your property. Make sure that your project conforms to the statutes, highlight the ones that apply to your project, and print a copy to have on hand. Take your project plans to the planning and zoning board, along with the highlighted statutes, to file a building permit. 

Should the contractor file the building permit, or should you do it yourself?

One of the biggest fears that a building contractor has is contracting with you on a project that ends up not being approved by the jurisdiction, resulting in them losing out on the contract and wasting their time. By already filing and getting the building permit approved, you’re one step ahead of where they need to be to comfortably take on your project. Contractors don’t want to deal with the planning and zoning department. Contractors want to build, not file paperwork. If this step is already complete, they may be more likely to take you on as a client. 

Even if there are changes that need to be made to the building permit, it’s much easier for your contractor to make changes than to start from scratch and try to get it approved.

All in all, the most important thing to remember is to know your jurisdiction’s requirements for filing a building permit. Especially as a civilian, the planning and zoning department is there to help you through the process. When in doubt, read up on the statutes of your jurisdiction and get a professional opinion if needed.

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