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Top Ten Building Permit Application Tips

Building_Permitting_Miami-Dade_Broward_Palm BeachAs a part of our permit processing services we review all documents that are submitted in the permit packages created by us, or by our Clients, and we are constantly complemented by the building departments on the completeness and accuracy of our building permit packages.

I have put together the top ten permitting tips for the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties which I think will be beneficial to the seasoned contractor, as well as homeowners and start-up construction contractors.

#1. Which Building Department? – The first step is the verify which building department has jurisdiction over the job site address. The postal address may not be the same as the municipality that has jurisdiction over issuing Building Permits. This especially true in Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County where there are large unincorporated areas that are under the control of the Counties. Typically the Property Appraisers page will indicate the building department having jurisdiction. Caution! That information may be related to the tax identification number. The is true in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. The first two digits of the property tax I.D. indicate the jurisdiction.

#2. Which Forms Do I Need? – Most municipalities have websites, and the Building Department pages have their forms available on the sites. Many have checklists to inform you on exactly what you need to submit. Use the website forms and follow the instructions on the checklists. Many seasoned contractors have the bad habit of using forms they have in a drawer, or stored in a directory on their computer, which may have been replaced. Always use the Building Department websites to get the forms you need.

#3. The Permit Application – This is considered a legal document. No copies are accepted, and all required signatures need to be notarized and original. If there are improper notaries the Building Department will not accept the application. They expect the form to be complete. No black spaces! If something does not apply, put N/A in the box. Many municipalities that require the Owner’s signature on their forms will request “Proof of Ownership” documents. That means the will require corporate documents that show the individual that signed the document is an Officer of the Corporation that owns the property. If the property is owned by an individual, the Property Appraiser page, printed, and attached to the application will suffice. This is the number one problem that occurs in the Building Permit application process. If you have a job in North Miami Beach they will not even accept your application without “Proof of Ownership”. Other municipalities such as Miami Beach, Miami-Dade, Coral Springs will accept the application but will delay issuance of the permit until the ownership issue is resolved. Get your paperwork correct up-front and it will save you time. Be aware that the Florida Building Code allows the Building Department to dispose of you application and construction documents after 60 days if you do not address issues or comments.

#4. Contractor Registration – All licensed contractors are required to be registered in each municipality. Some have notarized registration forms and annual registration fees. The documents required are pretty standard. C.O.I’s, State License, B.T.R. and a clear copy the Qualifier’s D. L.  Some people do not realize that the State License holder is referred to as the “Qualifier”.  If you have a Certified Building Building Contractor or General Contractors License in the State of Florida you are the “Qualifier”. Actually that applies to all Licenses.

#5. Construction Documents – Two complete packages of all construction documents are required by most Building Departments. The Cities that have now gone digital only require one, but to be safe, check their website. There are a few that require three or more. If there are sealed documents, additional copies must be original. No copies are accepted, and that includes reports such as, asbestos surveys and heat load calcs. If you have a commercial job, or are doing demolition work, you may need to have your construction documents reviewed and approved by County agencies. Get those approvals first, before submitting to the local Building Department.

#6. Digital Submissions – If you are not completely familiar with uploading digital permit documents. I highly recommend that you do not attempt it. The Building Departments require specific document naming and directory location for specific documents. You will also not be able to upload documents with embossed seals signed by a design professional. The will need to be electronically sealed per Florida Statue. I recommend that you hand deliver the permit package and pay the fees that the City charges for them to scan your documents into to their system. There also can be delays when you upload your permit package.  If anything is improper or incorrect in the documents you submitted you may not know for days. Having a live person review your paperwork could save you time.

#7. Permit Fees – Most municipalities now have up-front fees when you submit a building permit application. Some even charge all their fees up-front. The fees can range anywhere from 2  percent to 10 percent of the total job cost. I do no recommend that you try to cheat on the job costs. They may request a copy of the contract between the customer and the contractor. Their fees are based on the job cost information on the application and the construction documents submitted as a part of the permit application package. They may have fee sheets for building trades that calculate fees based on quantities of fixtures (plumbing), devices (electrical), and tons (mechanical). Payment options may be limited. Cash needs to be small bills, and credit cards are limited based on the fees charged by credit card companies. Unlike retailers, the government entities do like to absorb the fess charged by credit card companies. Checks are your best option. Unlike retailers, even fees due posted on their website my change after you have paid the fees, and they post that statement on their websites. In other words, even if they screw-up, you need to pay them the additional fees. In addition, bring several checks. Believe it or not, some Cities require separate checks for different fees.

#8. Plan Review – The question that we are always asked is; “How long will it take to get the permit?. The government works in mysterious ways,  and there is no definite answer. Typically, it is three days on average per discipline. Most Building Departments have real-time data on their websites for tracking plan reviews and the associated comments. There is no consistency in website design and software used for their Building Permit databases, so finding the plan review comments and permit status information can give you a headache. They may even require setting up a user account to access the information.

#9. Addressing Comments – There is no consistent procedure between Building Departments. Generally, when you bring in corrected construction documents, that address comments made by the plan reviewers, the sheets or pages that are being replace need to be voided. The Building Department terms for these changes to the submitted construction documents is rework, recheck or corrections. Some people use the term revision, which is incorrect. A revision is when you are making changes to a Building Permit that has already been issued. A response letter is required, and the changes on the plans need to be clouded so plan reviewers do no have to waste time searching for the changes in the updated construction documents. You will need to know which disciplines to send the corrected plans too.

#10. Is My Permit Ready to Issue? – You checked the Building Department website and it may say the permit is approved, or ready to issue. Be careful! Many municipalities have processes they go through, such as pricing, before a Building Permit is actually ready to be picked-up. There also could be a balance due because of additional review fees. If you are not familiar with the Cities procedures, call them before you make a trip there. Hopefully they will answer the phone. Some will send emails, or call the contact numbers on the application with the denied or approved status, and balance due. That is why the information entered on the Permit Application needs to be accurate. Some of our Clients have a bad habit of putting 1-800 or main phone number on the application that go to a operator that has no clue on why they are receiving the call.

I hope this has been helpful, and if you need help with your building permit processing, please give us a call. We over over 30 years experience in construction and building permitting in South Florida. Specifically Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Permit Fees

bag-of-moneyLike the cost of everything else, permit fees have increased over the years at a steady pace with the inflation rate, but, during the last year, and in the worst recession in decades, the fees charged by municipalities, has in many cases, increased by 100 percent. With local Florida governments looking for additional revenue sources, one of the first places they targeted was permit fees.

It has been a struggle for the construction industry in South Florida in the past couple of years and the increased fees have made it even more difficult for contractors to stay in business. Permit Source Clients tell us that businesses, and property owners, make decisions to hold off doing work, or they try to do it without a permit, just because of the astronomical permit fees. A perfect example of over inflated permit fees, is the City of Weston. A recent job having a total construction cost of $925.00 was assessed a permit fee of $525.00.

To add to the problem, more and more municipalities are requiring all or part of the permit fees be paid up-front. They have increased re-inspection fees and added re-review fees. The first thing the permit clerks say when you walk in the door is “What is your check number?”

The rule of thumb to use, as a rough estimate of permit fees use to be 1.5 percent. That number has increased to 3-5 percent. Cities such as, Key Biscayne and Weston, which have always had extremely high permit fees can be as much as 10 percent. There are a few municipalities that have held their permit fees at pre-recession levels but they are few and far between. Contractors and property owners be warned!