What Is a Building Permit?

Building permits are written authorizations issued by a city or county to construct a project. They are required for some landscape projects, in order to ensure the safety of the work and its compliance with building, construction, and zoning codes. The most frequent permits we see in our landscape projects are: gas line permits for outdoor kitchens/ fire features and pergolas/ arbors.

Although the exact permits needed and process varies by location, the typical steps to obtaining a permit are:

  • Going down to the city and completing a permit application.
  • Bringing plans and supporting documents (to show that it will meet building and zoning codes).
  • Scheduling an appointment for plan approval. You may be able to receive approval in person at an “over-the-counter” review. Or, the city may take several days, weeks to review the plans. The process may get extended even further if the city requires corrections and revisions. In most cases this is a two-step process. Your plan is reviewed by both the planning and the building departments before they can approve.
  • Obtaining the permit. Place it in a large zip lock bag and tape it to the outside of your back door for easy access for the landscape crew and city inspector. Permits are required before construction begins.
  • Scheduling inspections. During construction, your landscape contractor will need to schedule inspections throughout the process so the city can verify that you are acting according to your plans.
  • Complete your project and obtain final city approval.

Tips of the Trade

  • In our experience, we have found that homeowners are likely to receive better, faster and less complications with the city versus having your landscape contractor pull the permits. This may seem counterintuitive at first but think of it this way: they are public servants doing a job in which you are paying their salary. The city has a vested interest in keeping the homeowners happy. Now with that said, it’s important to present your case with the right attitude and information. Read on.
  • Be kind and polite. We cannot stress this enough. Walking in with a “I know everything attitude” will only challenge them to prove you wrong. Its better to present your plans and then gently ask, “Have I provided you with the information you need in order to apply for this permit?” If they need additional information, write it down verbatim so that you can return fully prepared. Different planners and different cities require different information- so consider yourself lucky if you do have all the information in your first visit!
  • If you do not understand their response for additional items they are requiring on your plans, ask them to provide you with a visual example or something in writing that you can bring back to your landscape contractor.
  • Before leaving, make sure you get their business card. Always work with the same person each time you arrive in person.
  • Go to the permit office in the morning. Do not wait until it’s almost lunch time or end of the day when they are closing. As you can imagine, they need their breaks and will not stay overtime to work out win-win solutions when their mind is on other things.
  • Be prepared for multiple visits, additional fees (from the city and your landscape team) and possible delays to your project while waiting for city approvals and inspections. In some cases, the city will ask for additional information from outside vendors such as surveyors or engineers- which will also need to be factored into your budget and timeline.
  • If you get stuck in the process or simply want to hire your landscape contractor to pull your permits for you, just inquire what their fees are and hire them instead.