Top 10 Effective Techniques for Working With a Building Department on Permits

Construction projects in most jurisdictions will need to be signed off by the building department in that jurisdiction. Even for the most experienced architects and engineers, there is a chance of having review comments put forth. The trick is knowing the most effective way to get the comments addressed and the project permitted.

1. Realize that building department comments are common and most projects will get them. They often do not mean that anything is wrong, in fact they commonly are just asking for further qualification. Remember, building officials see information presented in hundreds of different formats, and they may just want it displayed in a familiar format. I just can’t emphasize this enough, building department comments happen more often than not. Even in jurisdictions where we send dozens of plans, we may get a different reviewer and therefore different requirements.

2. Review their comments and separate out what is just clarification, address that and the list gets easier. If any of the comments belong to a different discipline, get those sent off right away.

3. Type up the reviewer’s comments and your responses immediately below them in the same reply letter. That helps avoid any confusion about what question you are addressing.

4. Call the reviewer, this helps qualify anything that isn’t clear and sets up a more personal dialogue. Even if the comments seem clear cut, a call will make it go faster.

5. If the call doesn’t clear everything up, go down there in person and work through the comments with the reviewer.You don’t want to go through this process more than once.

6. Remember, even if you are right, the trick is to satisfy the building official who may have a different interpretation. You should certainly give your reasoning, but realize that ultimately the permit is the goal.

7. Realize that there may be some conflicts in the code and stick to answering the comments. A recent example for us was a reviewer asking about ADA without asking about a conflicting code in the IBC. They asked about ADA, so we answered the ADA question.

8. Drop off your reply in person, so you can make any minor clarifications on the spot. I try to push for a quick review so that the sign off after I leave is only a formality. As an architect, I bring my stamp and a pen, so if there is anything they want clarified on the drawing, I can do it on the spot.

9. When you need to make changes to the drawings, be sure to cloud the revised drawings. Also, only include the revised drawings in the reply, they don’t need an entirely new set.  Make sure your response calls out the drawing tags that have been revised.

10. Finally, a recommendation for the next time you have a project. If there are any items that you think may be red flags, push for a meeting with the building official early in the project and insure that both the architect and owner are present so that everyone gets the same story directly from the official. Don’t forget to get their name and card.


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