Two men discussing zoning change

How to Pull a Building Permit for Your Home Improvement Projects

If you’re completing a home improvement project, there are a few important steps to this process that you may overlook. Among the most crucial steps involves pulling a building permit, which ensures that the work you’re about to do is safe and adheres to the local building code.

Likely the most costly mistake you can make when completing a home improvement project is to forego the permit application process. If you work for dozens of hours on the renovation only to have the city declare that your work isn’t permitted and needs to be reversed, you would be wasting a considerable amount of time and money.

The main reason why building projects can be delayed early on is because of the issues associated with obtaining a permit. The building plans that you provide to the local building authority will be used to determine if the structure you intend to build is up to code. Any mistake in your building plans can lead to a delay.

If you want to make sure that you finish your home improvement project without issue, it’s essential that you send in a permit application before starting work. This guide provides a closer look at how to pull a building permit that can be used for your next home renovation project.


Overview of Building Permits

Building permits are documents that are often issued by a city to provide developers or homeowners with the ability to perform a home improvement project or construct an entirely new building. Once you receive a building permit, you can get started on development immediately. By pulling a building permit, municipalities will be able to keep track of your project.

The types of home improvement projects that usually require a permit include everything that involves electric work, plumbing upgrades, and structural changes. There are a few exceptions to the permit requirement, the primary of which include smaller projects that aren’t expected to make substantial changes to the layout or structure of your home. These projects include everything from repainting a room to adding new kitchen cabinets.

When You Need a Permit

While many construction and home improvement projects require a permit, not all of them do. As touched upon previously, any project that involves plumbing upgrades, structural changes, or electrical work in your home requires a permit. The building code in your area determines which projects need a permit.

Keep in mind that building codes can reflect some of the issues that are only present in that specific region. For instance, building codes in certain coastal cities need to take heat and humidity into account. In more mountainous regions where forest fires are common, building codes must include fireproofing requirements. You should apply for a building permit if your home improvement project will:

  • Demolish a section of your home
  • Alter the piping in your home
  • Convert how a room is used
  • Remove or add walls

The main exceptions to the permit requirements include:

  • Repainting some or all of your home
  • Repaving your driveway
  • Making small repairs
  • Performing cosmetic changes
  • Installing kitchen cabinets
  • Replacing smaller kitchen appliances

Along with a standard building permit, you may also be tasked with obtaining special permits, which can include electrical and plumbing permits. If you’re set to install a lawn sprinkler underground, a plumbing permit is required. Speak with the local building authority to identify the permits that you need to obtain for your project.

Obtaining a Building Permit

If you’ve discovered that a building permit is needed for your home improvement project, there are certain steps you should follow to obtain your permit and start work on the project at hand. The main steps in this process include:

  • Fill out a permit application
  • Prepare a comprehensive site plan, which may require assistance from an architect or designer
  • Schedule an appointment to obtain plan approval, which could be done over-the-counter depending on the project size
  • Obtain your permit once your application is improved
  • Schedule regular inspections during the construction process to verify that the work adheres to your building plans
  • Finalize the project and receive approval from the city

The type of building permit you need to obtain mainly depends on the size of your project. If you have a very simple home improvement project, you might be able to seek an express permit that you can apply for online.

For a medium-sized project, an expanded counter plan check is often required, which can be reviewed and approved the same day. If your home improvement project is extensive and requires a considerable amount of work, it may be considered a large and complex project. In this scenario, a regular plan check may be necessary, which takes several weeks to review.

If you qualify for an express permit, you can submit your application online. Otherwise, you must submit your application in person at one of the local LADBS offices. Once you submit your application and it has been reviewed, you’ll be tasked with paying a fee to receive your permit. You can do so through the mail or by dropping off the payment at an LADBS office.

handing over and signing documents

Cost of Building Permits

Building permits can cost around $50 for smaller projects or as much as $2,000 for major remodels. The amount of money you spend to receive a permit also depends on the project’s location. Additional fees of $100-$500 will need to be paid for every inspection that takes place. You can reduce the cost of your permit by performing smaller and less intensive improvements.

Consequences of Failing to Obtain a Permit

In the event that you’re required by law to obtain a permit, it’s highly recommended that you take the steps necessary to receive your permit. Otherwise, you’ll face fines and penalties depending on the amount of work you’ve done.

While there’s always a possibility that you could complete the project without the city finding out, they’ll eventually learn of the changes to your home if you decide to sell the property in the future. In this scenario, you’ll find it difficult to sell your home. Many lenders are unwilling to provide loans to borrowers who are attempting to purchase a home that contains non-permitted work.

If the city finds out, they could task you with seeking a permit and paying much higher permitting fees that are around twice or three times as high. They could also ask you to shut down the project or tear down any work you’ve done.

Legal Requirements for Home Improvement Contractors

When you hire a contractor for your home improvement project, they are usually responsible for pulling a permit. Keep in mind that any contractor you hire must have a license and insurance in order to perform home improvement projects in California. When you hire the right contractor, they will need to adhere to the local building code.

If you happen to pull the permit yourself, you’ll be viewed as the contractor by the city, which means that you’ll be liable if any construction problem takes place. When you’re managing a project by yourself, you’ll need to focus on scheduling inspections as well. Before taking this approach to your next home improvement project, make sure that you understand what this process entails and how to avoid any fines or legal issues.


The Importance of Permitting

When you’re getting ready to start a construction or remodeling project, it’s essential that you obtain the right permit for the job. Doing so allows you to gain protection against potential fines and legal issues. It also ensures that your project is safe and maintains compliance with the local building codes.

Make sure that you focus on completing the permitting process without issue. The permitting procedures that were detailed above must be followed correctly if you want to avoid any unnecessary delays to your project.

If an issue with your paperwork is detected, the LADBS would ask you to make the necessary fixes, which could add days or weeks to your project timeline. In the worst case scenario, the building authority may identify a design flaw in your documentation. Depending on the severity of the flaw, you could spend weeks trying to bring the building plans up to code.


Even though home improvement projects aren’t as intensive as full development projects, anything that alters the structure of your home will require a building permit. These permits show the local building authority that your project is legal and compliant. Following the proper permitting procedures ensures safety and protection for your investment. If you’re unsure about getting a building permit for a small home improvement project, call the LADBS to clarify this matter.

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