San Jose Launches Expedited Permit Counters for Home Improvements

Building planFor homeowners in San Jose, raise your glasses. The city’s officials launched an expedited permit counter to make it easier for homeowners to obtain permits for home improvements. Those who are planning for a long-overdue home remodeling don’t have to endure the difficult process of getting permits and passing inspections.

“Don’t worry. It’s really not that bad and actually can be quite easy, especially if the project isn’t too big or complicated,” San Jose building officials advised.

San Jose is slightly infamous for having lengthy processes when it comes to home development or remodeling projects. As Jeannie Hamilton, division manager for San Jose’s development services permit center noted that homeowners in the past probably felt “trapped in a universe” where seemingly everyone is jostling to score their precious permits so they can get their projects off the ground. She said that San Jose Planning Department reviewed roughly 13,000 plans last year alone.

With the new process, the month-long and sometimes longer period of getting permits is reduced to as little as a day. The permit counter, which was launched since July, allows over-the-counter service to speed up the approval process. Hamilton noted:

“When you’re not tearing down walls you can basically just come down [to the permit center]; you don’t have to have professional drawings. We’ve identified what projects we can take a look at quickly so [residents] can start the work.”

Projects that qualify for over-the-counter service are single-story additions of up to 500 sq. ft. Simple home remodeling projects of up to 750 sq. ft. also qualify as long as only minor structural changes such as opening an interior wall are involved. Foundation improvements and repairs, siding or stucco replacement, fire or auto-inflicted damage, termite or dry rot repairs and general code compliance work also qualify for the simplified process.

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Another benefit for homeowners and developers is the removal of waiting lines. Hamilton explains: “Nor does anyone have to wait in line anymore, Hamilton said. They can simply leave blueprints or USB drives at the counter and return later in the day to pick them up along with a permit.”

The initiative not only reduced the red tape but also the fees for processing permits. Hamilton said that giving more authority to the people handling smaller projects–and separating those projects from the bigger and more complex ones–has reduced overhead and management fees. The cost of a permit went down by 10-50%.

High prices and long wait times have made some residents risk doing work without obtaining a permit, which the department hopes to change. “I’ve seen too many people get into a situation without permits that becomes a nightmare and a major headache,” Hamilton said.

The streamlined process will also solve problems that come with home modifications without permits. She explained that obtaining a retroactive permit can turn into a difficult task often involving extra fees and additional hurdles to comply with new codes.

Apart from the permits, the San Jose Planning Department strives to keep home improvements moving. Bill Mayne, building inspection manager, said: “Although as many as 220,000 inspections are made in a year, the department is taking steps to keep home improvement projects moving. Inspectors work six days a week to accommodate residents.”