The Ultimate Guide to Home Improvement Permits

Remodeling your home can be a daunting task, both financially and with regards to time commitment. However, one aspect of home improvement that many people do not initially consider is the required city permits. Bright Builders is proud to call Los Angeles our home, so we’ve crafted this guide specifically for LA. Permit requirements vary between cities, so we can only guarantee the accuracy of this guide if you live within the boundaries of Los Angeles. If you are located outside of LA, we suggest visiting the website of your local department of building and safety. With that in mind, let’s begin:

What is a permit?

As defined by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, a permit is a document that “gives you legal permission to start construction of a building project in accordance with approved drawings and specifications.”

When is a building permit required?

You must get a permit before construction begins. Not every project will require a permit, but it is always best to call your building and safety department. Performing construction without a permit puts you at a legal risk. Additionally, if the completed construction is not up to code when you choose to place your home on the market, you could require costly repairs. It’s best to save yourself any future trouble and consult with your local officials. The building department can answer construction questions you might have, as well as offer advice. You may be surprised to discover the kinds of construction that require a permit. Some examples include:

  • New buildings

  • Additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, etc.)

  • Residential work (decks, garages, fences, fireplaces, pools, water heaters, etc.)

  • Renovations (garage conversions, basement furnishings, kitchen expansions, re-roofing, etc.)

  • Electrical systems

  • Plumbing systems

  • HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning) systems

  • Changes to existing site drainage and grading

Please be aware that this list is not exhaustive. Even if you don’t see your project on this list, you may still need a permit. Most home improvement projects and commercial tenant improvements will require a building permit, unless the proposed work is specifically exempt from a permit. The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety can be reached by phone for more information during normal business hours at (213) 473-3231.

What are the different types of permits?

Different permits require different application and approval processes. The type of permit you must apply for will be dictated by the nature and scale of your project. The LADBS has provided a chart which will help you discern what kind of permit you’ll need.

As you can see above, you can complete a simple project with an express permit, which you can acquire online, or via a walk-in. Please refer to the official LADBS list to find out which renovations are considered simple projects. Projects that are more involved will require a walk-in visit, or, in the case of a major development project, an appointment with LADBS.

For clarity, a small-medium project requires a counter plan check. Medium projects require an expanded counter plan check. Large complex projects require a regular plan check. Major development projects will be subject to the parallel design permitting process, for which you must contact LADBS directly. All of these avenues will result in a building permit, however, the process used to obtain the permit differs based on the project. Separate permits are typically required for electrical, plumbing, and heating or air conditioning work. Your code official will provide you with assistance as well as all necessary applications if you require additional permits.

What documents will you need to receive your permit?

You will need the property address, legal description (tract and lot number), and a plot plan of the proposed work in order to receive your permit. The legal description is usually included on your Property tax records or in the deed for that individual property. You will also need to submit design plans for your project. Plans must be clear, legible, and correctly show the work to be done. The minimum requirements are:

  • Plot plan of the building on the lot

  • Floor plan of the proposed work

  • Framing plan showing the size and spacing of all structural members

  • Foundation plan, which includes floor-framing details

  • Elevations of new buildings or additions, and construction details for
    stairways, chimneys, or similar improvements

  • Construction details that indicate the size and direction of rafters, joists
    and studs

  • Energy conservation details, such as insulation thickness

Once you have assembled the required documents, you are prepared to submit them to LADBS.

How long does it take to get a permit?

The length of the permit process is variable depending on the project. Larger projects take more time to review to ensure that plans are up to code. It is possible to expedite a simple project using an express permit. Small and medium projects may be approved on the same day of application, provided that all documents are in order and existing plans are up to code. Large complex projects and major development projects may take weeks, depending on LADBS workload. By paying 50% of the permit fee upfront, you can expedite the process.

What are all the stages of the permit and inspection process?

The first step in any permit process is always to speak with a local code official. They will collect some basic information about your project, supply you with relevant documents on LA city codes, and provide you with a building permit application.

Next, you will fill out the building permit application. If applicable, you’ll provide drawings or sketches of the plans.

Following this, your application is considered under review. The amount of time it takes to review the application is dependent on the nature and scale of the proposed project. For more information, please see the chart above, which helps define the different types of permits. Once city officials have confirmed that all construction plans are compliant with the code, a building permit is issued.

After permit approval, you are legally allowed to begin construction. The city charges a fee based on the size of the job and covers the cost of the application, the review, and the inspection process. Fees are variable, but you can estimate them online using this link.

So what’s next?

The city of Los Angeles also requires on-site inspections to make sure that the remodel is safe. While determining safety, the city also checks if the project is up to code. When you speak with the code official during the permit process, they will let you know how many visits to expect over the course of your project. Usually, code officials will provide you with a one to two-day notice prior to arriving.

Upon completion of your project, you will then receive final approval from the city. A code official will provide documentation after they observe completed construction and code compliance. This will signify that you have successfully completed the permit process and that you are upholding the safety standards of Los Angeles.

We hope you’ve found this guide to be a helpful guide for all of your construction needs. If you’re located in Los Angeles, we hope you’ll call us to schedule a consultation. When you hire Bright Builders, we’ll take care of the permit process for you. You’ll be free to sit back, relax, and watch your new home take shape.

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