Have you ever had a project held up waiting on a permit?  If so, you can relate to the massive frustration of watching days turn into weeks waiting on a building permit.  

Since revenue lost to delays getting open is never made up, I’ve learned a few strategies to move our interior buildout projects along.

If your job is relatively simple, or if you are at a point that you don’t expect major changes, you may want to think about what construction you can be discretely getting started on while you wait for the permit to issue.  

Often times you can get a head start on things like wall framing, one side of sheetrock, paint, ceiling grid, rough plumbing, electrical service, and others.   We have worked up to the point of needing the first inspection before the permit has issued.

Most jurisdictions will issue a demolition permit ahead of the building permit.  Getting the demo permit lets you get started with a permit card to post on the door.  This is key because if an inspector sees your team working and a permit card is displayed, he probably won’t stop to compare the work on the permit to the actual activity going on.

If you can’t get a demo permit but need to start early, be very careful.  Don’t put anything outside – no dumpster, materials, or anything else that can be seen when passing by.

Our standard practice is to cover the windows to hide our mess from shoppers and this practice is also helpful when working discretely.

Work outside of business hours as much as possible.  Most inspectors tend to be the 9-5 types.

Keep a receipt of having paid the review fees on site.  If an inspector does come by, you can at least show that you are in the permitting process and not attempting to do unpermitted work.

On the permit side of the equation, remember:

  1.  Understand the process.  When you first submit your plans, ask about the review process.  Is there a single reviewer or do the plans get routed to multiple departments or individuals?  Does one set of plans get routed to around the office or are multiple reviews going on concurrently?  With this information, you can follow up with the individuals who have to review your plans and make sure your plans are in the queue and haven’t fallen behind their desk.

  • Be pleasantly persistent.  When you call to check on your plans, be empathetic and realize that many reviewers have more reviews to do than they can keep up with.  Too much follow up will annoy the reviewer and will hurt your cause.

  • Consider hiring an expeditor.  Former employees of the building department are often a good choice.  You’ll want someone who is intimately familiar with the process and has personal relationships with the reviewers.  I’ve seen expeditors show up at the permit office with lunch for the entire staff and an arm load of plans.  

It may seem like a never ending process, but even my worst experiences have ended with a permit being issued.

Hang in there!