Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Learn How Building Permits Made Easy Solving The Real Problems
Renovations without permits can become a real headache. That is why we felt to make a video to address a real problem, which is - - why we have unpermitted structures and how to make building permits easier to get!
Can People Build Without Permits? Why do people try to build without permits?
If you live in Los Angeles and the adjacent cities, the short answer for the first question is NO! You cannot build structures without a permit.
For the second question, the answer was a bit too long, so we made a video explaining why people build without permits and what to do to fix it.
We address the building permits conundrum by trying to highlight the real problem, especially because people that build without permits ARE NOT the real problem, in addition, because permits make sense, and it is a good tool to keep buildings safe for all of us.
California and Los Angeles Building Permit:
California is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to building permits. The Building and Safety Department is who issues permits. Permits are issued only after intense scrutiny is applied in each case, especially in Los Angeles. There is a good reason for it and a bad reason for it.
The good reason is that we live in an earthquake country, so buildings have to be built to withstand some minimum requirements to prevent harm and death. That is why permits are important.
The bad reason is that the government agencies responsible for issuing permits, became too big, too powerful, too unnecessarily over-encompassing, and too restrictive on permits when you are building a house. Allow me to elaborate here:
A building permit is a document that is supposed to provide the necessary approvals for you, or a builder, to move forward with safe construction or remodeling projects, usually on the property that you own, according to pre-established rules.
What a building permit is not supposed to be: An external power that prevents you from legally and safely build or improve a structure, especially because bureaucrats on power trips are occupying decision-making positions within building departments. -- In my prior sentence, you may feel some spite for people who are involved in this type of activity, but I am just trying to be precise in describing the problem, watch our video here for more details.
Easier Building Permits:
When your project thoroughly complies with rules and guidelines for construction, land use, and zoning, permitting should be easy without unnecessary red tape, excessive fees, extended waiting timeframes, in short, permits should be free of what I call “officially-approved harassment”.
But unfortunately, here in Los Angeles, this is a sad reality. Building and construction departments became so restrictive, that construction became wasteful, permits expensive, and illegal building a common practice.
Unfortunate Set of Rules
To comprehend some elements that influence illegal buildings, In order for a permit to be issued, some items are required that will never be actually used or will cause unintended problems. See our video regarding whole house fans by clicking here.
Other building rules regarding parking became so restrictive, that builders spend more money building parking structures than what it cost to build the actual homes that the parking serves.
Some green building rules are so ludicrous that city departments make you install items that will never be used! A good example is gray water systems that have to be installed but can be tied back into the regular sewer outside the house. Twice as many pipes and labor to tie back into the sewer! This is just absurd and foolish!
Don’t get me started with materials… I am not sure how powerful and influential building materials manufacturers actually are, but builders are forced to use some specific types of building materials that cost 10x more, just because it's labeled with some specific properties.
That includes special roofing materials, insulating windows, efficient water heaters… these are some good examples. These items are required, all for the sake of saving the planet… I understand… but one can also argue that producing these beefed-up materials is killing the planet too! There are cheaper options outside the required items! But That is not my point in this post, let's get back to permits...
Permits are important and necessary for the safety of all of us. So we made a video highlighting the real problems, so we could act together to solve a bigger problem.
Hopefully, we can have every structure in Los Angeles permitted and safe, without any harassment of the public trying to get the permits. For that, you will have to watch the video and act on the advice given by Drice Walker, our favorite character.
Meanwhile, if you need assistance on these processes or need us to build something for you, just let us handle the permits as well. We hate to see people like you being sent to the wrong department at city hall.
Book a paid assessment by clicking here and we will assess your project, prepare an estimate for the build and create a detailed plan for your building project.
Here are some common questions that we answer often:
Where to get building permits: Building permits can be acquired at your local building and safety department.
Can permits expire? Building permits expire after 2 years.
Will permits be extended? Yes, Building permits can be extended beyond the 2 years time frame for a fee.
Are permits a public record? In Los Angeles, building permits can be accessed online, at the LADBS website, by looking up the address.
Where do you find permits on a house? If you own a house, you can go to your local Building and Safety department and acquire the records of every permit pulled for your house.
What permits are needed when remodeling a house? It all depends on your project. There are permits for just about anything that goes into a house. Building permits include Demolition permits, grading permits, electrical permits, plumbing permits, public works sewer permits, public works type A driveway and sidewalk permits, fire suppression permits… the list goes on.
What are Grading permits? Simply, grading permits are permits to dig. In Los Angeles, there are certain restrictions in digging on land with some characteristics, therefore there is a need for grading permits, especially on land with a slope on hillsides.
Now watch this video and find out what the real problem really is!
[Drice Walker's monolog:]
You Probably have asked this question before, Why do people try to build without a permit?
There is a good reason why people don’t get building permits…
Because building and safety departments just suck! It is that simple!
I am mostly referring to the Los Angeles areas! Like Downtown LA, Van Nuys, Around here.
But building departments are almost the same all over!
People are willing to pay to get permits, but only if they were easier to get!
The Problem is that Permits are not easy to get! Every step of the way is an excruciatingly painful process.
I deal with this often… Government employees do not want to listen to their customers, which happens to be you, the taxpayer-- The people who actually pay their salary and whom they are supposed to help in return... No, they don't!
Some engineers feel empowered by the lack of accountability, often getting things wrong because they did not take the time to listen to you at all! Still, no consequences to them!
The taxpayer, again, meaning YOU, is financially responsible for THEIR errors and they are protected against lawsuits when errors are committed and cannot be proven as intentional.
In a corporate environment, any error, intentional or not, can cost their jobs! But in the city, nothing!
They need to be held to the same standards! They need to at least show some concern or personal responsibility to the outcomes of their own decisions!
It even got worse with Covid 19!!
Before, employees were afraid of pissing off contractors.
Some contractors can be very persuasive in person, especially because they have a NO-Bullshit tone of voice, that often could be heard in building departments in a form of shouts…
I'm sure, it is because they deal with rough construction workers, and also this profession allows for very short fuses.
Years back, even Security guards were added to the LA Building departments because of such occasions.
So in person, gov employees had some level of accountability, especially because some contractors look like they have nothing to lose, and I have to add, that some are known for being concealed carriers! What I mean is that...
While looking employees in the eyes, a contractor could see to it that paperwork was being expedited… No one wanted to be the broken link in a chain with possible immediate and violent consequences. So the contractors could get permits and could get things going...
But now, not anymore.
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Coming back to building permits….
Nowadays all permit requests are placed online, building depts employees can simply ignore emails with questions!
Homeowners beat their heads against the wall trying to acquire simple permits, having to hire several levels of engineering for small builds or small repairs.
On top of it all, Employees of building departments have a particular power given to them, that is called discretionary decision-making.
These discretionary powers, simply mean that they can make a decision based on their own assessment of the situation, especially if the rule is not easily found on the books!
So they can make up stuff!
Even if they lie to you, and later you find the actual rule stating otherwise, there are no consequences to them! They can just laugh at your face and go on with their lives...
So if the engineer is having a bad day, good luck getting any approval! There is no incentive for good outcomes anyway, and no punishments for bad outcomes either!
So departments are run like drug dealing operations…take it or leave it! No accountability at all, Government employees are rude to the people that they are suppose to be helping! and they are not helping them get any permits! They just send them off with a big "NO"...
If anyone asks more than two questions, they are sent to hell or out to another department. Even if that department has nothing to do with what they needed… again no accountability. I have seen it happen many times!
Constantly being sent to the wrong departments, being ignored for hours, city employees watching empty screens or chit-chatting to each other while people are waiting there for a long time, these are common occurrences experienced by anyone who expedites permits.
The building departments do not make it easier on customers. The taxpayers get treated like an inconvenience on their jobs.
Moreover, city departments generate income whether a permit is issued or not, by issuing fines!
Let me explain this a bit better, due to the way the system works, they get at least double in revenue when they catch an unpermitted structure.
There is no incentive for them to steam-line and be effective on issuing permits, if they can catch illegal building structures instead, they get double the money on permit fees and demolition has to happen, in which case the fines still remain. It's a big win to building and safety!
The city department should make the processes easier on people, and everyone would get permits to get their construction done!
I see that clients are willing to pay big bucks for permits, but these permits take so long and get to be so complicated, that people decide to skip the process altogether and just take the risk and built it without a permit.
Something has to be done about it.
If you have had the same experience acquiring permits, forward this video to your local representative - Ask them for city employee's accountability in the permitting process!
Ask them to intercede and streamline the permitting.
Ask them to provide engineering services to small repairs and rebuilds, preferably based on pre-approved prescriptive details.
You know, those forms that you get from the city with drawings already...
The city has hundreds of engineers sitting all day - saying “no” to people way too often, but not giving them any clear direction to... people seeking permits.
Tell your representative that your vote will go to somebody else if they do not help you with this… Believe it! They will listen. If enough calls come in... they will make the changes, they will go to city hall and address to the right people...
I’ll need a new job after this video! I'm sure!
No more permits will be issued to me!