Permitting for Dummies: Tips and Tricks to Navigating the Permitting Process

*I will preface this post with saying that no two jurisdictions are the same. Knowing that, don’t expect to prescribe these tips to every permitting endeavor you may embark upon, however I have attempted to make them general enough that they should be widely applicable.

Perhaps you are a homeowner looking to build a shed in your backyard or maybe you have acquired a piece of property and are ready to construct your dream home. Whatever your new project may be, there is likely a level of government permitting required and there are certainly ways to make the process less of a headache for all parties involved. Let’s dive in:

Visit your local permit center

Believe it or not, there are few things of higher value than having an in-person conversation with a real human when attempting to gather information. Most government agencies have a permit center open to the public that you should be able to visit during work hours. The City of Bellingham permit center features friendly, knowledgeable staff that can answer most of your burning questions. Before you go there, make sure to…

Do your research

It will be helpful to show up with information on the subject property. This includes address, parcel number (this can be found in several places, but I find the most useful the local county assessor’s website, Whatcom County’s can be found here), square footage of the property, and any preliminary plans you may have for your project. The City of Bellingham website also features an interactive map called “City IQ” that is incredibly useful for gathering basic property information, including information about zoning and utility availability.

Be prepared to pay the fees

Simply put, permit fees are not always ideal and vary between jurisdictions.  I’m not saying that your permit fees are guaranteed to be expensive, but to go into the situation knowing that you may have to dole out more cash than expected. In Bellingham, building permit fees are based on project valuation. The more information you have about your proposed project, the better you will be able to estimate your total fees.

Double check all permit requirements before submitting an application

You will hopefully leave your permit center visit with an idea of which permit applications you will need to complete. It is important to make sure you provide ALL requested information when returning the permit applications. An incomplete application can result in significant project delays.

Ask questions

No two projects are alike, and even if they were permitting requirements seem to change like the weather as codes and requirements are regularly updated. At the end of the day, you’ll never learn unless you ask the questions. If you are confused about something relating to the permitting process, ask a permit technician.

Be collaborative

This is arguably the most important tip of them all. If you go into permitting with the attitude that the government is a member of your team, you’ll leave with an overall more positive experience. The government process can be slow and tedious at times, but being combative won’t make anyone move any faster. My colleagues largely credit the success of their project permitting to their willingness to work with government officials rather than against them.

Permitting a project may seem overwhelming, but equipped with the right tools and attitude it can be accomplished with relative ease. Feel free to ask any permitting questions you may have in the comments section below. Are there any permitting tips missing that you think would be useful to know?