residential remodeling & new construction

Pulling Permits

February 10, 2011

The question most often asked about smaller jobs is “Does this need a permit?” Almost everything but painting requires a permit. The short list of exceptions includes fences under six feet, carpeting, residential awnings and sewer rooter repair. The process of pulling permits imposes on our time and our wallets, but the inconvenience can be kept to a minimum if you are prepared.

At the City website page on City Permits ( you can find full listings of permit requirements and also explanatory articles written by head Building Official Greg McFann. Under Why do I need to get a permit? McFann explains: "Despite the perceived hassle involved in getting City approval, the permit and inspection process is in place to assure everyone's adherence to minimum standards to safeguard life and limb and property and public welfare and to uphold the design standards of the community."

There are two basic types of permits, over-the-counter for basic repair (like fixing a water heater), and design review permits. Generally, design review applies to major projects like additions, though Alameda has a permit template for a basic bathroom remodel over-the-counter. Design review warrants a visit to the Building department to consult with one of the permit technicians and will often require a consultation with planning staff to get you squared away on zoning and other requirements for passing design review.

Fee schedules are not available on line, but for smaller jobs the structure is based on a minimum flat fee of $41 for each trade, adding smaller fees for specific lines items like electrical sub panel or a water heater. On larger projects there is a basic building permit under which the other trades permits are filed, and long list of other clerical and “impact” fees may apply. These charges add up quickly, but without condemning or defending them a point on which the public should be clear is that the fees go to offset the cost of running the Planning and Building Department so they cannot be used as a 'cash cow' to fill the general fund.

The ePortal (formerly Permit Manager) for on line permits is only assessable to contractors with Alameda business licenses. Property owners must apply in person on the first floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara, Alameda.

For those who run afoul of the city for un-permitted work the penalty is a four-fold permit fee. The City has an amnesty program for people who turn themselves in which requires only normal permit fees. All un-permitted work must be to code. At the discretion of the inspector, verification of code may entail opening walls or other stages of reverse construction to allow access for inspection.

Good luck!

Link to article in The Island

Back to the Articles page