When Do I Need A Permit?

Permit Overview

All construction activity, from initial grading of a site to interior improvements, alterations and most repairs requires a building permit unless the work is specifically exempted by the California Building Code. Although some work is exempt from a building permit, additional permits or review may still be required. Before a building or structure is erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished, it is important to contact the appropriate staff at the Planning and Building Permit Department to determine if any other permit or technical review is required.

Projects NOT Requiring A Permit

The question of when a building permit is required can sometimes be confusing. This is because the codes approach the question from a different perspective. The codes list those items that are not required to have a permit (a much smaller list) rather than those items which are required to have a permit. The following items are not required to have a building permit.

  • A one story detached accessory buildings used as a tool or storage shed, a playhouse or similar use, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 sq. ft. and when erected as accessory to a single family dwelling on the same property.  Planning approval is required for location and size.  No electrical or plumbing allowed without a permit.
  • Fences and gates not over 42” high, While a fence and gates under 42” may be exempt from a building permit, other permits or approvals may be required, such as, but not limited to, use permits and design review.  In general, fences within the front yard setback or front side yards are likely to require a use permit, despite the exemption from a building permit.
  • Movable cases and counters not over 5 feet 9 inches high that do not have electrical.
  • Walks and driveways not more than 30 inches above grade, not over any basement or story below, and not part of an accessible (handicap) path.
  • Painting, papering and similar finish work.
  • Temporary motion picture, television and theater stage sets and scenery.
  • Satellite dishes 3 feet in diameter or less when utilizing only low voltage wiring.
  • Window awnings supported by an exterior wall of a single family dwelling projecting not more than 54 inches.
  • Repairs which involve only the replacement of component parts of existing work with similar materials for the purpose of maintenance and do not affect any electrical, plumbing, or mechanical installation. Repairs exempt from permit requirements shall not include any addition, change, or modification in construction, exit facilities, or permanent fixtures or equipment.
  • The clearing of stoppages or the repairing of leaks in plumbing systems.
  • No permit is necessary for portable heating, air conditioning, or ventilation equipment.
  • For electrical work no permit is required for repair of portable motors and/or appliances which have an attachment plug end. Temporary decorative lighting (such as Christmas Lights).  Circuit breaker replacements.  
  • Installation or maintenance of communications wiring, devices or equipment.   

If you have any questions concerning the above please do not hesitate to ask the Building and Safety Department by calling (949) 362-4300 or stopping by City Hall.