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Building Permits??

3 replies [Last post]
Joined: Mar 24 2003

Question for the group:

I live in San Rafael and am considering fencing in our front yard. I see numerous eichlers that have successfully done this and I think it looks great--especially when done with proper eichler siding.

Question this something I need a building permit for? I think the answer is yes, if so, here is my concern. I was told by someone that when you apply for a permit, it gives the city a chance to come out and reassess your property value and hence increase your property taxes. For that reason, I am concerned.

Is this the truth or was this person wrong? What are your thoughts with respect to permits?


Joined: Apr 2 2003

Building codes and permit requirements vary from city to city--as likely does the approachability of the department's staff. Homeowners I've talked to seem to do OK, contractors often relate horror stories. ( Maybe familiarity breeds contempt, or perceived treading on the others' turf, or perceived questioning of one's skill/authority--dunno.)

I'm in San Jose and my dealings with the City building department as a single residence homeowner have all been positive. I go in person and simply tell the receptionist/intake clerk what I want to ask about. The staff has always been straight forward with the information. I treat them with respect and receive the same in return.

I would recommend finding out first-hand about permits and codes for fencing--either through the city website or in person at their office. I've had well-meaning neighbours and contractors tell me things that just weren't true. (For instance, that I couldn't replace my current windows with the same unbroken span.) In that case, and in the case of termite repair, knowing what the regs said enabled to me to make informed choices between different building alternatives so I could acheive my goal within code.

I'd heartily recommend an informed choice. Permit fees are not that expensive (for instance, mine was $75 for a electrical service upgrade). Also, if you can spare the time, I'd recommend getting the permit yourself rather than having a contractor do it. Contractors understadably charge you for the time waiting and sometimes more for the irritation if they've had previous run-ins with the office. As well, it's a great chance to pick up brochures/hand-outs on other building projects you might be considering.

A quick search turned up the following information page for City of San Rafael:

If you scroll down to Brochures and click on Single Family Residence handout, you can view a PDF document outlining setbacks, etc.

On page 4 (special regulations) it gives the information on allowable fence heights, etc. Read it for yourself, but it seems to indicate that only fences over 6 feet require design review and a building permit.

An important note: I believe you are required to build to code even if a building permit is not required.

Good luck.

eichfan at rawbw dot com

Joined: Mar 20 2003

In my experience it is best to ask losts of wuestions to the building permit department before hand. IF you get red flagged or build without a permit and get caught they usually make life extra difficult.

Joined: Mar 22 2003

As to the potential for an increase in the assement and thus taxes, I believe that this is always a possibility. Also, you do sometimes ge an over-agressive inspector that may want to take a look-see at what other improvements that they may not know about, have been made to the property. This risk may be lower if you are doing something like a fence, since there should be no need for them to go inside the house.

Also, if all you are doing is putting up a fence, I doubt if this will have much, if any, impact. Putting up a fence is one thing, and adding a 2nd story is quite another.


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