Can You Go to Jail for Not Getting a Building Permit?

Building a structure without a permit (with exceptions on the meaning of structure under the California Building Code) is a misdemeanor in most California local entities. Usually, the punishment for a misdemeanor under most municipal codes includes jail time. Let me choose two California cities at random: Sacramento and El Cajon to illustrate this point:

Sacramento Municipal Code section 

1.28.020 Criminal sanctions—Misdemeanors and infractions.

  1. It is unlawful for any person to violate any provision or to fail to comply with any of the requirements of this code, including any administrative order issued hereunder. Any person violating any of the provisions, or failing to comply with any of the requirements of this code, including an administrative order, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, except where it has been provided by state law or this code that the violator shall be guilty of an infraction. Any person convicted of a misdemeanor under the provisions of this code shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), or not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both fine and imprisonment; provided that violations of Chapter 13.10 of this code regarding unlawful dumping shall be punishable by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.

El Cajon Municipal Code:

1.24.010 Designated violations-Misdemeanors and infractions.
A.    It shall be unlawful for any person to violate any provision or to fail to comply with any of the requirements of this code. A violation of any of the provisions or failing to comply with any of the mandatory requirements of this code shall constitute a misdemeanor except that notwithstanding any other provisions of this code, any such violation constituting a misdemeanor under this code may, in the discretion of the attorney having prosecutorial functions, be charged and prosecuted as an infraction; and with the further exception that any violation of the provisions relating to parking, operation of bicycles, operation of motor vehicles, and use of freeways, highways and streets by animals, bicycles, motor vehicles or pedestrians shall constitute an infraction.

B.     Any person convicted of a misdemeanor under the provisions of this code, unless provision is otherwise made in this code, shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.

So, in both of these randomly chosen California cities, punishment of a misdemeanor shall be punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or both.

So, do people go to jail for building without a building permit?  Probably not.  In the linked case, in the news today, the sentence was 200 hours community service, three years informal probation, and $14,191 in restitution, with an additional restitution hearing set.

That case involved a celebrity (or at least celebrity-adjacent) and a solid lawyer.  But perhaps the notoriety of the case informed its outcome (meaning the prosecutor was a little more zealous). And still, no jail time.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708
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About Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law
Michael Reiter is a Redlands, California-based lawyer, serving San Bernardino County and Riverside County in Southern California's Inland Empire. Michael Reiter is a lawyer practicing in the following fields of law: Municipal Law, Code Enforcement Law, Small Business Law and Real Estate Law. Michael Reiter practices in all the local courts, including San Bernardino Superior Court, Riverside Superior Court, and the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Michael Reiter was admitted to the California State Bar in 1998. Michael Reiter was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, and Staff Attorney for Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino. Michael Reiter serves all of San Bernardino and Riverside County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. Michael Reiter can be reached at (909) 296-6708, or by electronic mail at michael@michaelreiterlaw.com. 300 E. State St. #517 Redlands CA 92373-5235

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