I first learned about the construction industry way back in university when Seinfeld was popular (yes that was over 20 years ago - sad I know). Not much has changed in how things are done. Yes, cities now have decent websites that aren't HTML coded, and many allow permit submissions online, but in general things are still done a certain way.
In other words - Slow.
Having gone through the permit submission and approval process for myself and many clients, I can say that this is an overlooked aspect that can add a significant amount of time to your project. There are many cases where a permit added months, or even over a year due to revisions, variances, committee hearings, etc.
You don't need me to tell you that time is money, particularly if you're a real estate investor. Whether you're a buy-and-hold type of investor or a flipper, there's always likely some renovation work involved before you can rent the property out or sell. A delay in either outcome can have real implications on your bottom line.
In any reno project, there are many moving parts with different trades, each relying on one another to have their job complete. Take a basement suite. The cabinet installer is waiting on the tile setter, whose waiting on the drywaller, whose waiting on the electrician and framer, etc.
Any hiccups will have a ripple effect that's going to not just impede that one job, but cause everything else to delay as well. This is because trades themselves are often managing multiple projects, and they won't wait around if the guy before them didn't get his job done.
If it's a bigger job involving structural work, plumbing, or an addition, you're going to need a building permit. It's the very FIRST thing in managing a smooth renovation project.
Because this is such a critical initial step, I'm going to uncover 6 things you need to know to ensure that you get your building permit as soon as humanly possible.
1. Get In "Planning Mode" As Soon As Offer Is Accepted (Or Even Before)
At minimum you want to get at least a 45 to 60 day closing period to line up all the work that needs to be done. Include multiple visits on your agreement, and schedule a couple of visits soon after the offer is accepted. This allows your contractors, code designers, architects, and anyone else to see the scope of work, so you can plan accordingly.
Great contractors have their work lined up weeks and months in advance. You probably don't want to use the guy that tells you he can start the job tomorrow.
Permit applications should be submitted well before closing. Most cities require you to show documentation of new ownership, or ask for a letter from the seller. If a letter is required, include that in your purchase agreement as well because their lawyers generally frown upon having their client sign anything else that was not required in the agreement. This is for liability reasons.
2. Get Your Land Survey In Order
A majority of permit drawings involving exterior work requires a site plan. A site plan helps to reveal the house in relation to the properly line, and can only be properly produced from a land survey.
This is important for many things. Certainly it is the case for basement suites, since this is now a change of use renovation. Among the items considered include distance of window and door opening for fire separation, parking dimension and front yardage etc.
3. Be A Nice Guy Or Gal At City Hall
Remember that Seinfeld episode when Jerry thought he offended the hotel wake-up call guy, and was worried the guy would spite him by not giving him a wake-up call?
Don't let that happen to you. Be a nice person at the city, whether you're working with the planning department, building department, municipal licensing, or the eight other departments that you might need to navigate. Most folks working there are nice, and are just doing a job like you or I, and have rules to follow. Being patient and accommodating will go a long way.
If you're doing a secondary suite and this whole process scares you, you can call us and we can take care of it for you.
4. Be Ready For The 10 Day Response
The building code mandates that your permit application be sent back to you in 10 business days. This doesn't mean that your permit will be approved, but they have to at least get back to you. 90% of the time, we have to make revisions. This is fine, because as licensed code designers, it costs us nothing to make adjustments to the drawings. We'd rather the customer save money from not having to do unnecessary work, instead of going above and beyond.
So make sure to align your code designer, architect or yourself to be ready to make any adjustments necessary exactly 10 days after submission. You want to get it back to them as quickly as possibly because the second time around, they don't have a specified time frame to get back.
5. Try To Connect Via Email Or Phone For Minor Changes
As we mentioned, some cities allow permits to be submitted online, but many still prefer the old fashioned method, which involves:
You taking a day off work --> Getting gouged with downtown parking --> Getting re-directed by 5 different departments before finding yours --> Lining up for an hour and learning you forgot to print duplicate copies of your drawings, so you have to come back.
If this is the case, try to make sure it only happens once. Ask who the examiner is that will be reviewing your application, and get their contact information for revisions and corrections. See if you can communicate with them by phone or email.
6. After permit, schedule initial inspection immediately
Finally, after receiving your permit and documents, contact the inspector immediately for an initial inspection before work begins. They might be so busy that they tell you to go ahead and start, and they'll come to check it out after the first stage of work.
Inform your contractors, and send them a copy of the approved drawings and specs. They can review it and prepare to work according to all documentation. If they have any questions, they can call the code designer or architect.
So those are the big things to help you speed up the building permit process as quickly as possible. So to recap:
- Get in planning mode right after offer
- Get your land survey in order
- Be a nice person at city hall
- Be ready for 10 day response
- Connect with building official via phone/email
- Schedule initial inspection immediately
Thanks for reading. Did I miss anything? Have any fun or nightmarish stories of your own with the permit process you'd like to share? You can comment below.