What is the commercial building permit process?


By Erik Koenig, Project Manager


The construction permitting process often presents numerous challenges to navigate based upon the complexities and differences within various jurisdictional regulations. Anyone desiring to improve their property or construct a new building must know how to navigate the quagmire commonly known as the building permit and inspection process. The good news is that there are resources and assistance in navigating this process.



Let’s begin with the basics.


What exactly is a building permit?


A building permit is an official document approval issued by your local government agency. Specific issues addressed with the approval of the project include structural integrity of the framing work, zoning requirements, sanitation, water, sewer, fire protection and electrical service. The intention of this oversight is designed to ensure proper remodeling or construction work for life safety (egress in emergency), environmental standards, and code compliance, from excavation to electrical.


The building permit document allows you or your contractor to proceed with a construction or remodeling project on your property and indicates that plans have been approved according to local standards for land use, zoning, and construction specifics. These standards are intended to ensure the safety of current and future owners and occupants and to provide enforcement of zoning and land-use policies.


When is a building permit needed?


Not all construction and renovation projects require a building permit. In most cases, simple repairs, finish upgrades, and replacements can be performed by professional contractors without applying for a permit. Many jurisdictions outline these requirements on their websites and applications, or you can find out simply by speaking with the Building Official.


Any project that involves additions or major changes to your structure or mechanical systems generally requires you to apply for the appropriate permit from the local building department. When hiring a contractor to perform the work, they generally will handle the permit process as ownership of knowledge is transferred to the contractor. The responsibility falls to the property owner when the project work will be done by the owner. It should be noted that many oversight agencies require certain work be completed only by licensed professionals. Electrical, gas, water and sewer line work often fall into this category.


Unfortunately, it is common for owners to complete improvement projects without applying for a permit, paying the application fee, or having the work inspected and approved. While it is possible that projects can be completed in a quality manner and may never cause problems, it is not a best practice to circumvent the official permit process. Possible difficulties include:



  1. When you attempt to sell, the buyer’s inspection may uncover remodeling or additions that were done without proper permits and may not be completed to code. This may prevent the sale and require that the work be redone, this time according to code and within the permit process.
  2. In the event of a fire, structural collapse, or major plumbing problem, if it is discovered the mishap is the result of work that was done without the benefit of permit or inspections, it is possible your insurance damage and liability policy may decline to cover the damage.


What are building permit requirements?


The requirements for permits vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based upon state and local requirements. Some cities may be extremely concerned about the aesthetics of a new or renovated structure and some may only be concerned with life safety and building code compliance. The surefire way to determine if a permit is required is to contact your local Building Official and describe the work you wish to complete. Permit decisions often depend upon an assessment of the relative risk.



Types of sub-permits associated with Building permits are:

  • Grading Permit 
  • Demolition Permit
  • Site Utility Permit
  • Plumbing Permit
  • HVAC Permit
  • Fire Protection Permit
  • Fire Alarm Permit
  • Electrical Permit


Additional permits that may be required depending on jurisdiction are:

  • Health Permit
  • Food License
  • Met Council Determination

What is the building permit process?


The process of obtaining a building permit typically follows this process: 


  1. Contact your local building office and describe the project you want to do. If a permit is required, an application form will be provided to you that outlines the requirements for applying for a building permit. Some jobs may require multiple permits. A major remodeling project, for example, might require a carpentry/construction permit, an electrical permit, and a plumbing permit. 
  2. Prepare the permit application, including whatever additional materials may be required. Construction projects may require drawings of the work you plan to do by a registered architect and/or engineer.
  3. Submit the building permit application and pay whatever fees are required. The licensing office will issue you an official permit certificate. 
  4. As you begin work, post the building permit certificate as required. This may mean fastening the permit to a door or window near where the work is being done. As building officials or other government employees go about their daily routines, they are prompted to “check” activity within their jurisdictions. By posting the permit prominently, you are preventing interruption of the work taking place. 
  5. At the designated points during the work, call the inspection office to arrange for an inspector to visit the worksite and review the quality of the work. If the inspector orders any changes to the work, complete these changes, and have the inspector return to review the work again. 
  6. Once the inspector approves the work and issues a certificate of occupancy, you no longer need to display the permit certificate.


The time it takes to acquire a building permit varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This variation can be attributed to the workload of building officials (i.e., are there several projects in the queue), city staffing, complexity of the project, and the quality of the plans and documents submitted. As a rule of thumb, allow 2 to 4 weeks to acquire a building permit.


Commercial construction and remodeling projects often engage the services of a general contractor that can manage the complex permitting process. Shingobee’s team of professionals works closely with you and your design team to ensure each aspect of your project meets public requirements and will see it through the permit process as needed.


Meet the Author


Erik Koenig has been a project manager with Shingobee Builders, in our Waite Park office, for 24 years. He has managed tenant improvement and remodel projects for dozens of restaurants, retail, banks, credit unions, and more, and is known for building repeat relationships with his clients.