Construction permitting is complicated so hiring a qualified architect is essential



July 16, 2020




Permitting materializes itself into every construction project, regardless of size and scope.

This fiendish criminal can take over a project and grow it into a monstrous ordeal that can wreak havoc on the inexperienced lay person, unfamiliar with the design and construction process. 


Why Permitting? 

Permitting is a regulatory agency that every municipality uses to enforce strict compliance with building codes, life safety codes, fire related codes, ADA, etc. The intent of permitting is to ensure that construction projects are developed to these standards and thus produce a safe environment for persons to live, work, entertain, worship, relax, and more. Practically every activity in which a human participates within the built environment. But, there’s a problem….. 


A mountain out of a molehill! 

Many times, permitting agencies can enforce too much bureaucracy and regulations that can figuratively kill a construction project. This can happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object! The intent of the homeowner or developer can often clash with the oath the permit official has taken to adhere to the building codes and regulations regardless of the financial impact incurred by the applicant. The result is a battle of wills by each party looking past each other and losing sight of the project outcome. This happens when the applicant (homeowner or developer) does not understand why every nuance of the code applies to their project. The permitting official often wants to apply every nuance of the code to ensure they are not missing or overlooking any criteria that could render a project unsafe for occupation. 



Where’s the beef? 

Why is there opposition to citizens wanting to enhance their environment? Why does permitting become an obstacle to issue permits? Shouldn’t permitting agencies work with citizens and assist with approving projects for construction? Even as an Architect for over 15 years, I ask these same questions when clients are baffled that the Permit Official issues comments that are well beyond the intent of a project slated for construction.


Through the looking glass 

So why is there such a problem with permitting a project for issuance of a construction permit? Part of the problem can come from overzealous permit officials that want to enforce a set of plans that is as perfect as possible, once it lands on their desk for review. On the other hand, there are permit officials that are not proficient at their assignment and seek council from more experienced staff, which can prolong the process.

There are also other factors that can come into play within the permitting process such as revenue for the municipality. Some jurisdiction’s charge for projects without any set scale of pricing that can be tracked, and additional fees can be charged if successive reviews are required by the permit official. The outcome is that the client is frustrated that this process can take longer than the design documents that were created for submission and can even last longer than the construction process itself.




There is also an adversarial relationship that exists between Architect and Engineers submitting their design documents to the permit official. This happens with the permit official believes they know how to design the project better than the Architect and/or Engineer that produced the plans for submission for permit. I have seen this happen firsthand and through other accounts of architects clashing with some permit officials over the application of building codes and regulations. 


You say potato, I say tomato 

Misinterpretation of the code can happen among architects and permitting officials which can create conflict. After all, building codes and manuals are legal documents and the law can and will be interpreted differently because human beings will naturally take sides to advocate for their position. When compromise is taken off the table of negotiations, one is left with no means for a solution. 


Who wins? 

When this impasse occurs, there are few routes to take to arrive at a solution. Appealing to the Head Building Official may be the last resort to force an impetuous permit official to concede. I have gone this route more than a few times when permit officials create tension and develop a vendetta believing only, they are the right personnel to interpret and dictate the building code. Sounds like a power trip? I will leave that to the reader!


In Conclusion 

Permitting can be a daunting task but can be managed with staying calm and bracing for the ride. Even though the architect is your advocate and is legally liable for the design documents that are submitted for permit, the permit official has the task of enforcing the code and even sometimes exceeding the code requirements when it comes to the safety of persons that will occupy the completed building. A savvy architect will be able to navigate the code and apply it on your behalf to get a project issued for permit. And if you have any questions — feel free to reach out to us at Jerel McCants Architecture. We would be more than happy to assist!