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  • Writer's pictureEd Cuming

Navigating the Building Permit Process in San Luis Obispo County

What is a building permit?

A building permit is an official, written authorization from your local government building office that gives you permission to begin a construction or remodeling project. Building permits are meant to ensure that homes and other structures meet local health and safety standards as well as zoning and land-use policies.

When do you need a building permit?

As the homeowner, it is your responsibility to get the necessary building permits when required. Depending on the jurisdiction your property is in, there are different permitting requirements. You can reach out directly to your local building office for specifics. An experienced builder can also help you figure out which permits you need and manage the permitting process for you.

Most simple repairs and replacements do not require a permit. Typically you will need a permit for projects that make major changes to the structure or mechanical systems of your home. Best to check with a professional contractor or contact your local building department.

Here are just a few examples of projects that are likely to require building permits: additions, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), new fireplaces, decks, changes to the location of plumbing and electrical, adding or removing most walls, and roof replacement. Window replacement may require a permit in many cases.

Navigating the Permitting Process

Contact your local building office. Through conversation with your local office, determine the permits required for your project. Some jobs may require multiple permits. For example, a major remodel might require an electrical permit, plumbing permit, and a carpentry permit.

Prepare the permit application. Be as thorough as possible when completing your application and include all of the materials that are requested. If you leave something out, it may cause delays in the process.

Plan and budget for fees. Fees are typically charged based on the type of permit being issued, the size of the project, and for initial review and inspections. Many projects may require more than one inspection midway through construction and a final inspection when work is complete. And if the inspector orders any changes, they will need to come back to review the work again.

Have patience and be persistent. The permitting process can take time. Larger and more complex projects can take longer to approve. For example, on the Central Coast you can generally expect between 2–4 months for permits to build an ADU, 3–6 months for a major remodel, and 6–18 months for a new custom home build. There are almost always corrections that need to be made. So be prepared for some back and forth before your permits are approved.

Don’t skip the building permit. Trying to bypass the permitting process can come back to bite you. You can be fined by the local building department. Keep in mind, the building department can “red tag” your project, resulting in delays, frustration, and fines. If a fire, plumbing issue, or structural problem occurs and unpermitted work is to blame, your homeowner's insurance could deny coverage. If you want to sell your house, the buyer’s inspection could uncover unpermitted work that could cause problems with the sale.

Consider working with an expert. Let the professional contractor or architect/draftsman manage the permitting process for you. They can factor the cost of permits into the bid price, handle the paperwork, and make sure your project is done correctly.

Local Links & Resources


Ed Cuming Custom Homes is your one-stop-shop for expert custom home design and construction on the Central Coast.

Ed and his crew will help you through all phases of the process from buying a lot and laying plans to permitting and building.

As your general contractor, Ed will be hands-on and on-site. Over the years, he’s built an “A-Team” of capable professionals who deliver nothing but the highest quality work.

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