If you’re about to start development on a major renovation project, you may need to take additional steps before you’re legally allowed by the city to begin your work. In some situations, a change-of use-permit will be required. With this permit, you can alter the use of a facility or building without needing to tear down and rebuild the entire structure.
Change-of-use permits may be required even if you aren’t making physical changes to the building. However, any proposed change in how a space or building is used will require project managers to seek a permit. If you’re able to gain approval for your permit application, this indicates that your plans comply with the local building codes and regulations. When you submit an application, you’ll need to provide documentation that supports your project. The following is a comprehensive guide on how to fill out and submit change-of-use applications.
The change-of-use application process can be completed in a eight-step process, which involves:
- Applying and paying
- Submitting the necessary plans
- Comprehensive plan review
- Pay outstanding fees
- Issue permit
- Permit revision
- Final inspections and approval
If you don’t request this permit before changing the use of your property or building, the city will likely assess strong penalties and fees if they find out. You won’t need to obtain this type of permit in the event that the use of your property is remaining the same. Even if a new tenant or owner will be occupying the building, a permit isn’t required.
If the city reviews your permit application and finds that it meets current code requirements, you’ll be given the necessary permit. When your project isn’t up to code, you could either change it or seek a special exception of variance, which needs to be sought from your local zoning board. Keep in mind that zoning is just one aspect of the licensing and permitting process. You may also need to seek other occupancy certificates, construction permits, and safety certifications if you want your project to be legal.
When a Permit is Required
Until you speak directly with the local planning department, it may be difficult to identify which permits you need to apply for before starting work on your project. When it comes to a change-of-use permit, you’ll likely need to have one if you intend to:
- Alter a commercial space into a new business or residential unit
- Open a daycare center
- Decrease or increase the number of units on your property
- Convert a warehouse or distribution center into studios for artists
- Create a business office, restaurant, or retail store
As touched upon previously, you won’t need a permit if you aren’t changing the use of the building.
How to Apply
The application process for a change-of-use permit is relatively straightforward. Your permit application will need to include information on the intended change as well as details about the current owner. In the event that a property isn’t owned by a publicly traded company or an individual, you’ll need to give LADBS the name and address of either:
- The two people with the largest interest
- Each person who has over 49% interest in property ownership
If your property has been sold recently, make sure that you send in a copy of the deed or settlement sheet alongside the application. When a tenant is the one sending in an application to change the use of the property, they must provide a lease agreement.
If the only thing that you’re requesting is a change of use, you’ll be able to avoid submitting additional plans or drawings. You may, however, need to provide the building department with flood protection forms or a key plan depending on the types of changes you want to make. Some additional permits you might require include:
- Separate permit for any signs on the property
- Certificate of occupancy when forming a new activity or business
- Building permit when your renovations are extensive and involve structural changes
The fees that you pay differ depending on which planning department you apply with. There are also many different fees you could pay if your project is more extensive than just a change of use. If the change of use applies to a one-or-two-family dwelling, the fees could be as small as $25. Your costs may be higher when applying for a change of use in a commercial building.
Additional permit fees could be anywhere from $100-$1,000 depending on the size of the building. Certain businesses will have multiple uses. If these uses are somewhat related, you’ll only need to pay a single permit fee. A small record retention fee may need to be paid as well.
Plan Review and Approval
All of the information you submit will be reviewed by personnel at the LADBS, which is necessary to verify that you’ve paid all of your filing fees, the information you’ve provided adheres to the local building codes, and the documentation meets the application requirements.
It’s possible that the review staff will ask for more information to correct errors. In this scenario, you may need to make modifications to some of the existing documentation. You should be notified once the plan review has been completed and your project has moved to the next step.
Once your change-of-use permit is approved, you’ll likely need to obtain a completely new certificate of occupancy for this space. As long as you adhere to the permit requirements, you can be confident that the space will be certified. Keep in mind that your certificate of occupancy and change-of-use permit will remain with the property as opposed to the owner.
In most cases, the LADBS will be the main permitting authority in charge of issuing these permits. However, other government agencies may be tasked with handling inspections or providing you with additional permits for the project at hand. Since other government agencies are often involved, the approval timeline can be lengthy.
During the application process, the city planning authority reviews your documentation and other requirements. Depending on where the project is located, it’s possible that the coastal commission or historical preservation society will need to be consulted as well. While the approval process is ongoing, you’ll be informed of which departments are involved.
Once the necessary government agencies take a look at your application and provide approval, you’ll be able to start your project. In the meantime, every agency will have its own list of requirements before you’ll obtain approval. For instance, the requirements for a building permit differ from the ones that you must meet before receiving a mechanical or electrical permit. Because of how complex the permit application process can be, it’s highly recommended that you hire a permit expediter to handle this process on your behalf.
Inspections and Final Approval
Once your application has been reviewed and you’ve paid all of the necessary fees, the LADBS will issue your permit. If your plan was submitted in paper form, a copy of your permit will be attached. When your plans are submitted electronically, you may receive your permit online. At this juncture, you’ll be able to begin development on your project without needing to worry that you’ll be asked to tear down your work. However, permit inspections will be necessary along the way. During development, you’ll also need to have the approved plans on site and ready to be reviewed whenever someone from the planning authority arrives at your location.
Throughout the project, several inspections must take place to make sure that you’ve adhered to the documentation you submitted. If you complete any work that’s outside the scope of your permit, you may be asked to reverse it, which would cause your project to be delayed. You can schedule inspections by calling the LADBS or by filling out a form online.
When you first receive your permit, you should be given information about when inspections need to take place. If you don’t request these inspections in a timely manner, you could face some consequences. Once the final inspection occurs and you obtain approval, you should store your permit and plans in a safe and secure location.
Before you submit a change-of-use application, there’s some additional information that you should be aware of. Some important resources are listed below.
Being approved for a change-of-use permit is a lengthy process that involves plan reviews, inspections, and a wide range of additional requirements. Since numerous government agencies can take part in this process, you should work with a permit expediting company to ensure a smooth and successful change-of-use process. They have local knowledge that can be used to navigate hurdles and quickly resolve any issues that the planning authority brings up while your application is being reviewed.
Jason Somers, President & Founder of Crest Real Estate
With over 15 years of professional experience in the Los Angeles luxury real estate market, Jason Somers has the background, judgement and track record to provide an unparalleled level of real estate services. His widespread knowledge helps clients identify and acquire income producing properties and value-ad development opportunities.