Types of Construction Permits to Know

types of permits

Building permits are official approvals issued by local jurisdictions to project teams for authorization of construction work on new or existing buildings. The permitting process involves gathering information about the exact construction site location, intended use, building size, and any other characteristics of the proposed improvements.

Decisions on which permits are required for a given construction project are completely  governed by the regulations outlined by the jurisdiction(s) in which the site falls within. Each area will have a different way of approaching permits, with its own timeline and rules.

Why Do I Need a Permit?

Builders are legally required to obtain a permit any time they plan to build a new structure or change an existing one. A permit may also be required for demolition work, change of intended uses of buildings, temporary uses, removal of trees, and other potential requirements depending on the jurisdiction’s rules.

The permitting process can seem complicated and time-consuming to contractors, but each rule is all in place for a reason. Many of the reasons for construction permits are to protect human health, safety and well-being. For example those that ensure the new facilities will follow structural stability design requirements, fire code requirements, and allow adequate access to first responder vehicles.

Other rules are grounded in social goals the municipality may have set, like ensuring ADA standards to the new building, protecting the unique personality of the surrounding neighborhood, or looking to uphold sustainability goals.

Though permits can be tricky, builders can prevent complications from arising in the permitting process by conducting thorough research beforehand, maintaining open communication, and carefully organizing all construction and permitting documents for easy access.

Residential vs. Commercial Construction Permits

Builders will need to obtain permits for any commercial or residential build, but the permits will vary depending on the structure’s intended use.

Residential construction permits are required for single-family homes and duplexes. The permits for residential builds tend to be less complex (although they are not without their challenges) and focus on structural integrity, livability, and fire safety. They may also focus on maintaining a community or neighborhood aesthetic, and involve rules about how the building will fit with its surroundings based on its height, position on the lot, or other details.

Commercial permits are necessary for a vast array of buildings, such as offices, multifamily apartments, mixed-use, and retail. Commercial builds must follow commercial building codes, which could cover anything from occupancy loads, facility accessibility, air quality systems, and fire suppression.

This article will focus on the permits and processes for commercial construction projects.

Types of Construction Permits

Construction permits vary a great deal from one jurisdiction to another. Below are some of the basic types of commercial permits, but certain jurisdictions may have permits that combine two or more categories or have unique permit categories, so it’s always important to ensure that you’re following local guidance and triple-checking your permit requirements.

Site Permits

A site permit authorizes a builder to develop a piece of land for a specific purpose and typically authorizes contractors to begin work on some horizontal construction site work if there is no demolition of existing buildings involved. Builders must obtain site permits to ensure adequate services to the new build, that rights of way have been or can be established, and that site layouts are acceptable for the surrounding area. Site permits can take anywhere from months to years to be approved.

Site Development Permit
A site permit authorizes a builder to develop a piece of land for a specific purpose and typically authorizes contractors to begin work on some horizontal construction site work if there is no demolition of existing buildings involved. Builders must obtain site permits to ensure adequate services to the new build, that rights of way have been or can be established, and that site layouts are acceptable for the surrounding area. Site permits can take anywhere from months to years to be approved as they typically involve 10+ department reviews, design iterations to comply with every different requirement that might arise, waivers or variances that might require commission or council approval, and review and recording of legal documents. Every site permit project is unique, and complexity of the proposed project and its existing site location and characteristics will inform how long the permit process may take.

Construction & Building Permits

Construction permits give builders the necessary permissions to actually proceed with a construction project. They fall into several separate categories depending on the work that will occur.

New Construction
Commercial new construction permits are required for builders who intend to dig, shore up the foundation, and erect a new structure. Building a new apartment complex from the ground-up? You’ll need new construction permits.

Commercial remodel permits cover changes to an existing structure, including additions and finish-outs. Depending on the location, permits may be needed to knock out an interior wall or to add a new one. Example: a new corporate tenant moving into an office space but remodeling it to better fit their needs, including adding in conference rooms and creating an open floor plan.

Commercial Revision
Revision permits are needed when a permit is still active, and a change or update is made to the construction plan. For example, if the project team obtains a permit and then realizes they need to change the thickness of the stucco, that change would require a revision.

Demolition permits are required before tearing down any building or any part of a building, including garages, storage units, or a multifamily structure. If you’re going to be tearing anything down at all, you’re going to need a demo permit.

Other “Child” Permits
Child permits are those required following the approval of a more overarching permit. For instance, a remodel permit may be granted for building a new apartment inside a commercial building, but the builder may have to follow it up with a tenant improvement permit before beginning construction. Again, this is entirely dependent on the local regulations and could be different in two neighboring towns.

Trade permits are another good example of a child permit. They are required before beginning any electrical, mechanical, or plumbing work on the new build.

Best Practices for Faster Permitting

Permitting can be a major cause of delay on construction projects. Builders can’t always control how long it takes for their permit to move through local approval processes, but they can help speed up and keep the process on track by following some basic best practices.

Plan and Communicate for Greater Accuracy
While some of the permitting process is relegated to project owners, architects and contractors will need to add their knowledge of the project to ensure the project plans are in order. For instance, architects are in charge of building design, so they need to be familiar with jurisdictional rules to ensure that the plans submitted with the permit application fall in line.

Sharing knowledge through common resources and open communication can go a long way to making sure all stakeholders are familiar with local rules.

Never be afraid to ask questions. Go right to the source – ask the same people who will review your documents for more information on expectations.

Lean on Local Experts
If permit requirements are getting overwhelming, consider which experts or resources could help sort out the paperwork and keep the process on track for an on-time approval. Consultants can offer valuable insights by taking the time to conduct thorough research and offering a removed perspective. Permitting software like Pulley can help identify requirements, organize documents, and streamline permit applications through a combination of best in class expediting services and purpose built permitting software.

You’ll also want to be absolutely certain that you understand and oblige by every local requirement in order to avoid delays and confusion. Most jurisdictions offer some degree of online documentation, but it can be challenging to navigate, which is another area a permit expert or platform can add value.

The bottom line is that in permitting, builders should avoid the back-and-forth that comes with missed information or incorrect documentation. All of the extra communication between the building team and the municipality can take a lot of time. Accessing resources can help make the process more manageable for builders.

Submit and Pay Permitting Fees on Time
Some permit fees may be due upon application for permits, while others may be due once the permits are reviewed and approved. Paying fees late may cause delays in the consideration of your application, or cause it to be denied altogether. A rejected permit application can always be resubmitted, but since a project can’t legally begin without the right permits, this could translate to costly delays to the project start date.

Don’t Make Permits the Enemy

The permitting process is complex and time-consuming, but it’s necessary for every single construction project. Builders need to make peace with permitting to avoid costly delays. With proper research, communication, planning, and organization, builders can avoid a lot of frustration during permitting for a new project.