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Los Angeles Building Permits

If you are starting a new Building or Remodeling project, or just want to check a property’s permit history, you will need to visit the Los Angeles Building Department (Online for express permits or in person at one of their office locations). In this article, I try to help you understand and navigate the permit process.

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Table of Contents

1. What is a Building Permit?

2. When is a building permits required?

6. How much do building permits cost?

4. What does a building permit look like? (Sample Permits)

5. How do I search online for building permits?

How to read building permits? What to look for?

3. How do I apply for a building permit?is the process for Obtaining a building Permit?

When does my permit expire? how long do they last




What is a building Permit?

Building permits are two things: a process for quality control in building and a detailed record of construction history.

The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety regulates construction in the city. It is their goal to make sure that all new construction projects are built to code and safe (thus the Safety in Building and Safety). Building permits are useful for a lot of things, for buyers to review in escrow as part of their inspections, for developers when figuring out the development potential of a parcel, For owners as proof of the legal status of a structure, and for researchers to use for gathering data and making reports.

When are Building Permits Required?

According to the Los Angeles Municipal Code a building permit is required:

For any construction work that costs $500 or more. Permits are required to build, remodel, add on, repair, demolish or change the occupancy of any building or structure. Updating or upgrading a property also requires a permit. Depending on the size of the job, several different permits might be required.  (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 91.106)

Here are some examples of work that requires a permit: Demolition, Grading, Roofing, kitchen remodel, bathroom remodel, New pool, installing or replacing HVAC, Solar Panels, upgrading electrical, new plumbing, exterior stucco, new windows, chimney repairs, Fences above a certain height, decks, seismic retrofitting, foundation repairs.

If you follow the letter of the municipal code to the letter, you are pretty much supposed to permit everything! Your author’s personal opinion is the $500 threshold is a bit low and has not been adjusted for inflation over the years. I think $1,500 to $2,000 would be more realistic in 2020, but it could be as high as $5,000. It should be a meaningful amount of money that if you lost it you would actually go about the effort to try to recover it. There is definitely a place for handyman whose work is mostly basic low-level construction. If everyone permitted every Water Heater installation (typically $1,500 to $2,000) the city would be overrun!

New construction and Additions that add square footage absolutely must have permits. The risks are too great if you don’t. Follow the permit process for new construction and when the work is finished, you will receive a certificate of occupancy from the building department. This certificate of occupancy shows that the building is legal. Lenders require a CofO to give the additional square footage or building value on their appraisal. No CofO = no value. Aside from adding no value, a building that does not have a certificate of occupancy can be a liability to the owner, because the city could demand that it be demolished if they believe it is unsafe. Sellers might have trouble later on down the road selling their property when they disclose that the addition or building was unpermitted to buyers. Don’t have a CofO for a building or addition? You may be able to get a Retroactive Permit.

How much do Permits Cost?

Permits cost in two ways- 1. the actual permit fee, and 2. the extra time it takes for submitting plans and inspections.

Sample City of LA building Permits

The look of Los Angeles Building Permits has changed over the years. Building Permits started in the 1920s. About every 20 or 30 years the city does an update to the permit form. We have had the current Permit form since the 1990s.

How do I search for building permits?

Recently the city of Los Angeles has uploaded many of the historic building permits online. You can search for building permits on LADBS website https://www.ladbs.org/services/check-status/online-building-records

However, if you want a comprehensive permit search, you still need to go into the Records Counter yourself or hire a permit company to pull the permits for you. Permit pulling services charge $60.

Permit Pulling Companies:


Building Permit Report

Los Angeles use an archaic microfiche system – not every single microfiche is going to be looked at.



What if you can’t find the permits for construction work?

If you cannot locate the permits for a construction job, then it is probably Non Permitted Work.

The Permit Process:

Permit Application

The first step in the permit process is to file a permit application. Express Permits and Over the Counter Permits are for small to medium budget projects that do not require a full set of plans. General Building Permits are for large budget projects such as changes in use, and structural alterations like moving walls, windows, and doors.

Plan Review


-Project Approval

-Site Inspections


-Final Issuance

Construction History Record:

Building permits contain a lot of useful information: the property address, a site description with details of any existing structures, the proposed project, an estimated project valuation, the name of the architect or contractor who did the work, project completion date, the permit #, and in some cases a siteplan.

The city of Los Angeles has changed the design of building permits over the years, here a few examples of different permit designs.

Recode LA wrote a great article on the history of building in Los Angeles.

I’m in Escrow, should I review the building permits?

I recommend for buyers to always review the building permit history while in escrow. I want to verify that the property has a certificate of occupancy.

When a project has permits, a buyer knows that a city building inspector monitored each phase of the construction and gave it his final approval. Permits gives you assurance that the work done is reliable and not substandard. Permitted work meets building and safety codes at the time it was completed.

When does a permit expire?

You have 180 days from when the permit is issued to commence work and two years total from the permit issue date to complete the construction work. If you do not finish in that time you may have to reapply for a permit and pay the permit fee over again. You have 30 days after expiration of a permit to apply for an extension. (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 98.0603)

How to Read A Buiding Permit:

Unless you are active in the real estate industry, you probably have not looked at a building permit in quite a while if ever. There are a few things I look for when reading a building permit. The first thing I check is what kind of a permit it is- Buiding, Electrical, HVAC, Plumbing, Roofing etc. Another thing I look for is when the permit was issued. This is a very important one- check the STATUS of the permit, some permits are pulled but never filed. If the work was never done you can simply close the permit. But if the work was done and a Final sign off was not recieved then you might have to correct that- so double-check if the permit was finaled. The box that says Final- should have an inspectors signature on it, and the permit status should be finaled.


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