Do I Need A Building Permit?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The answer usually is yes, you do need a building permit.  California, and in turn, local public entities, have adopted the California Building Code, which is a version of the International Building Code, formerly, and sometimes still called, the Uniform Building Code.  By now, most cities and towns in California should be using the 2010 Code, though the 2012 Code is being developed.  However, be cautioned that some municipalities are relying on older versions of the California Building Code, and the procedures were incorporated in the Uniform Administrative Code.  Check with your jurisdiction!
The California Building Code is difficult to find online, but it is codified in Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.  The situation is much better than it used to be, when the copyright to the underlying model code prevented it from being offered inexpensively or free online.

Title 24, Part 2, Section 105 et seq. has the general requirement regarding permits.  It reads:


105.1 Required. Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.

There are certain exemptions to this requirement:

105.2 Work exempt from permit. Exemptions from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of this jurisdiction. Permits shall not be required for the following:


1. One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11 m2).

2. Fences not over 6 feet (1829 mm) high.

3. Oil derricks.

4. Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet (1219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge or impounding Class I, II or IIIA liquids.

5. Water tanks supported directly on grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.

6. Sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above adjacent grade, and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.

7. Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work.

8. Temporary motion picture, television and theater stage sets and scenery.

9. Prefabricated swimming pools accessory to a Group R-3 occupancy that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep, do not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and are installed entirely above ground.

10. Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agricultural purposes, not including service systems.

11. Swings and other playground equipment accessory to detached one- and two-family dwellings.

12. Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches (1372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support of Groups R-3 and U occupancies.

13. Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches (1753 mm) in height.


Repairs and maintenance: Minor repair work, including the replacement of lamps or the connection of approved portable electrical equipment to approved permanently installed receptacles.

Radio and television transmitting stations: The provisions of this code shall not apply to electrical equipment used for radio and television transmissions, but do apply to equipment and wiring for a power supply and the installations of towers and antennas.

Temporary testing systems: A permit shall not be required for the installation of any temporary system required for the testing or servicing of electrical equipment or apparatus.


1. Portable heating appliance.

2. Replacement of any minor part that does not alter approval of equipment or make such equipment unsafe.


1. Portable heating appliance.

2. Portable ventilation equipment.

3. Portable cooling unit.

4. Steam, hot or chilled water piping within any heating or cooling equipment regulated by this code.

5. Replacement of any part that does not alter its approval or make it unsafe.

6. Portable evaporative cooler.

7. Self-contained refrigeration system containing 10 pounds (5 kg) or less of refrigerant and actuated by motors of 1 horsepower (746 W) or less.


1. The stopping of leaks in drains, water, soil, waste or vent pipe, provided, however, that if any concealed trap, drain pipe, water, soil, waste or vent pipe becomes defective and it becomes necessary to remove and replace the same with the new material, such work shall be considered as new work and a permit shall be obtained and inspection made as provided in this code.

2. The clearing of stoppages or the repairing of leaks in pipes, valves or fixtures and the removal and reinstallation of water closets, provided such repairs do not involve or require the replacement or rearrangement of valves, pipes or fixtures.

However, the inquiry does not end here.  California Health and Safety Code section 17958.7  permits local changes to the California Building Code:

(a) Except as provided in Section 17922.6, the governing body of a city or county, before making any modifications or changes pursuant to Section 17958.5, shall make an express finding that such modifications or changes are reasonably necessary because of local climatic, geological or topographical conditions. Such a finding shall be available as a public record. A copy of those findings, together with the modification or change expressly marked and identified to which each finding refers, shall be filed with the California Building Standards Commission. No modification or change shall become effective or operative for any purpose until the finding and the modification or change have been filed with the California Building Standards Commission.

So, the answer to “Do I Need a Building Permit” requires you to look at the changes to the California Building Code in your local municipal code.  For example, one local City used to have a requirement that you needed a permit to pour a concrete patio slab, where it was otherwise exempt from the Uniform Building Code.  The City of Moreno Valley has modified the Code adding an exemption:

Moreno Valley Municipal Code section 8.20.010 reads in pertinent part:

    The California Building Code, 2010 Edition, based on the 2009 International Building Code as published by the International Code Council, excluding Chapter 29 and Chapter 34 and including Appendix H and the standards referred to therein, is adopted and made part of this title by reference with the following modifications:

. . .

E.   Chapter 1, Division II, Section 105.2, Building 2 is hereby amended to read as follows:

Fences not over six (6) feet high, masonry concrete block walls under four (4) feet, or combination masonry concrete block walls with wrought iron under four (4) feet high.

Note that the City Council or other approving body must make findings that the ” changes are reasonably necessary because of local climatic, geological or topographical conditions.”   However, the findings just have to be made and filed, they don’t actually need any basis in reality, apparently.  The City of San Jose, for example, removed the administrative appeal process in the California Building Code for revocation of permits.

So, the short answer is that many things that people do not obtain permits for, such as installing a new dishwasher, require permits, though there are some things such as tile work or painting that don’t require permits, unless they are prohibited by local agencies.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

Inspecting and Obtaining Copies of Building Permits and Building Plans in California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law.

I have been to multiple City Halls lately inspecting permits and plans, and obtaining copies of permits from local public agencies.  Here is a primer on using the California Public Records Act to inspect building permits and plans, and to receive copies of permits.

As we have discussed before, the California Public Records Act is a way to inspect and obtain copies of documents.  This works for permits, as well.  Some forward-thinking cities have their permit systems online for anyone to inspect.  Others require you to take the trip to City Hall to look at the physical files, either because there is no online system, or because some cities are not as resident-friendly as others.

Every city I have ever dealt allows the public to inspect permits without any prior notice, and without the necessity of sending them to the City Attorney’s Office.  Likewise, getting copies of permits is easy, without the bureaucratic review process seen with many other Public Records Act Requests.

Health and Safety Code section19851 says that plans are open to inspection on premises of the building department as a public record.  No copy of the plans may be duplicated in whole or part except:

with the written permission, which permission shall not be unreasonably withheld as specified in subdivision (f), of the certified, licensed or registered professional or his or her successor, if any, who signed the original documents and the written permission of the original or current owner of the building, or, if the building is part of a common interest development, with the written permission of the board of directors or governing body of the association established to manage the common interest development, or (2) by order of a proper court or upon the request of any state agency.  California Health and Safety Code section 19851(a)(1).

There is also an argument that the plans are exempt from duplication pursuant to Government Code section 6254(k), the exemption part of the California Public Records Act that states: “(k) Records, the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited pursuant to federal or state law, including, but not limited to, provisions of the Evidence Code relating to privilege.”    The idea is that since federal law, 17 United States Code section 102(a)(8) protects architectural works, and “architectural works” is defined as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.”  17 U.S.C. section 101.  I think that argument fails (as to inspection, not copying) because I don’t think it is among the bundle of rights associated with copyright specifically 17 U.S.C. section 106.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Address : 300 E. State St. #517
Redlands, CA 92373
Telephone: (909) 296-6708