Although obtaining a building permit is not a guarantee that your project will be problem-free, it does provide many benefits over non-permitted projects. Perhaps the most important benefit is that it provides an independent evaluation of the code-related aspects of your project. This process often actually begins when the project is still in a conceptual phase. Many times the information the Planning and Building Department can provide at this juncture greatly benefits an applicant in regards to the manner in which the project is ultimately structured and submitted. From initial inquiry through final approval, this “independent evaluation” is ongoing, to ensure that your project is compliant with all applicable building and municipal codes.
In addition to the above some of the more obvious advantages to obtaining a building permit are:
It “raises the bar” for all the individuals involved in the project.
This includes designers, consultants, contractors, suppliers, as well as the individuals actually performing the work. Although limited to ensuring code compliance rather than overall quality control, the Planning and Building Department acts as a project “watchdog.”
Having a structured, time sensitive approval process can help keep the project moving (and hopefully completed!) in a timely manner.
The general requirement that any code-required element of the project be inspected before it is allowed to be covered often leads to the discovery of problems that could be infinitely more egregious and expensive to mitigate if discovered later in the building process.
It provides an accurate record of work that has been done to the property over the years.
This is particularly important in terms of transfer of ownership, and to a lesser degree, refinancing the property. The City of Mill Valley maintains a “Building History File” on each property within the city limits. In addition to applicable supporting documentation, the file contains all building permit activity since the City began documentation on the property. As per Municipal Code, when a property changes ownership the seller is obligated to schedule an inspection with the City. One of the intended purposes of these inspections, or ”RBR” (Residential Building Report) is to determine if work without permits has occurred. The results of this inspection go into the Building History File. As the contents of this file are public information, a common scenario is: a potential homebuyer, doing their due diligence, notices in the report that work has been done without benefit of permits. This can raise a red flag that often impacts the entire transaction, raising questions about the condition of the property and possibly the seller’s willingness to disclose information. Regardless of how the situation arises, it is a laborious, time consuming, and usually expensive process to submit for and receive final approval on a retroactive permit. Generally finishes need to be removed, often to both ascertain how the project was constructed for plan review purposes, as well as to determine the construction was compliant with the code in effect at the time the work was completed. In addition, the permit fees are at a minimum doubled, and may be assessed even higher.
The City of Mill Valley is committed to promoting a safe built environment. When we issue a permit, the applicant is required to display a copy of the permit in a location that is reasonably visible from the public way. If it comes to our attention that work that was subject to permits is in progress with no evidence of a permit, enforcement action is a possibility. In the big picture, the cost of permitting is often negligible, compared to the potential value and benefits received.