If you are planning to build out or renovate your office space, knowing when and how to attain the proper building permit is a must. Without the property building permits, your project runs the risk of being shut down by the city, leaving you with an unfinished space and likely some legal bills to go along with it.
To help you better understand the permitting process for construction projects in Austin, in this article we cover:
- What a permit is and how to know if you need one
- How to get a permit in Austin, Texas
- What happens after you receive a permit
- Common obstacles and how to avoid them
We hope that after reading this you will feel much more confident moving forward with your project.
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What Is a Building Permit?
A construction permit is no different from any other permit you may have come across; it gives you permission to perform a certain task. In the case of your real estate project, a building permit is the city’s way of giving you the right to begin construction.
Most permits carry with them certain restrictions on what can and cannot be done over the course of the project, and are generally limited to a specific duration. In Austin, most construction permits are active for 180 days, at which point an inspection is required if the project is to continue.
Austin’s Development Services Department issues a number of different permits, including building, contractor, demolition, and tree permits.
Do You Need a Building Permit?
The City of Austin specifies a permit is required when you plan to “erect, construct, enlarge, alter, repair, improve, remove, convert, move, or demolish” a building or space within the city’s jurisdiction.
However, that does not mean you necessarily need a permit for every project you plan to pursue. For smaller alterations to a space and ones that are not likely to change the property’s physical structure in any significant way, a permit may not be required. For example, if all you plan to do is paint the walls and install new carpet in your office, a permit is likely not needed. You can view a full list of renovations that do not require a permit here.
Even without a permit, your work must still comply with the building codes and ordinances in your area. Because of this, we recommend consulting with a project manager prior to beginning even a small project to ensure you are following all the applicable guidelines.
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How to Get a Building Permit in Austin, Texas
The permitting process in Austin can be complicated, especially if you haven’t gone through it before. With all the different departments and the potential for delays (Austin has a reputation for a complicated and slow permitting process), a single misstep can set you back weeks if not months.
An experienced project manager based in Austin will be familiar with the city’s permitting process and can help your project move forward on schedule. In fact, we feel hiring a project manager is so important that the remainder of this article is written assuming you chose to hire one.
Before Submitting Your Application
Before your permit application ever makes it into the city’s hands, there are a number of steps that need to be completed.
First, you will need to compile an outline of your intended project to submit along with your application. This may include an overview of the alterations you plan to pursue, a site development plan with blueprints, and anything else that will help the city understand exactly what you intend to do over the course of the permit.
Next, your project manager will need to begin putting together a team of contractors to do the project. While they will be unable to begin work until the permit is received, having a team already coordinated will allow work to begin immediately once the permit is in your hands.
Once these things are completed, your project manager has checked for any expired or open permits related to the property in question, and the application has been filled out completely and accurately, you are ready to submit your project for review.
Keep in mind that there will be a fee associated with the review process. The fee can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands or higher based on the square footage of your project. You can find the estimated fee for your project type on the City of Austin’s website.
Permit Review Process
In Austin, the Commercial Plan Review Division is responsible for reviewing all requests for commercial permits. Participants in this review process include staff from the building department, fire department, Austin Water Utility, and the Austin / Travis County Health Department. The department offers several review types, including:
- Quick Turn Around: for small interior remodels; typically approved on the same day
- Preliminary Plan Review: a meeting to discuss preliminary designs and potential construction issues
- Concurrent Review: general review of the permit application
- Demolitions: for complete demolitions of commercial buildings and interior spaces
The type of review you pursue will depend mostly on the scale and type of your project. As with fees, each type of review also carries with it different estimated review times that you and your project manager will need to account for. For example, plans for a full remodel of a second-generation space will likely be reviewed in about 3 to 4 weeks.
It is also worth keeping in mind that, while you may receive the results of your review within the city’s estimated review time, the results may indicate that you need to change your plans and submit them for review once again. This is where the challenge of permitting delays can begin to present issues for your project. Your project manager will need to work with the city to find a plan that is both satisfactory to you and the city.
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Enlist a Permit Expediter
To help speed up the permitting process, many project managers choose to use the services of a permit expediter. These professionals have extensive knowledge of the city’s permitting process and advise their clients on how best to design a project so that it receives permits quickly.
Your project manager will be able to help you determine if you would benefit from hiring an expediter and should be able to refer you to qualified professionals.
Receiving Your Permit
Once the city approves your application and you receive your permit, you are ready to begin working on your project. However, the city will still be involved at different stages through the use of inspections.
Inspections are conducted through the Building Inspection Division, and their purpose is to ensure that the project followed the guidelines in the permit and meets the relevant health and safety codes.
Depending on the extent of the work being done and the project’s time frame, inspections can occur during construction or once construction is complete. Since permits expire 180 days after they are issued without inspection, an inspection will need to be conducted before then to keep your permit active.
It is up to you and your project manager to schedule an inspection at the necessary time. The city allows you to schedule an inspection online or over the phone and also supplies tips for a successful inspection. In most cases, the General Contractor awarded the project will be responsible for calling in inspections and following the city’s process for obtaining the appropriate Certificate of Occupancy (CofO).
Common Building Permit Obstacles and How to Avoid Them
With so many specific steps to follow, you are bound to encounter a few obstacles while navigating the permitting process. While every project is unique, our project management team has noticed a few common obstacles and has tips for how to avoid them.
Your Permit is Rejected
After putting so much effort into getting your project designed and submitted for review, it can be disheartening to find out that your permit application was rejected. It can also be stressful for your wallet, as a rejection means you will need to go through the entire process again, spending more of your time and money.
As obvious as it seems, a simple way to avoid this is to make sure your application is filled out completely and correctly and that your project is not breaking any relevant guidelines for your area. These steps can go a long way toward helping your project make it through the review process successfully.
Having your project manager work closely with your architect will help reduce errors in the plans and, if the plans are rejected or need additional clarification, your project manager and architect will be able to quickly address them and re-submit.
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90 Percent Complete Page Flip
Once the architect’s plans are 90% complete, including the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) drawings, have your project manager sit down with you and the architect to review each page thoroughly.
This will help with quality control of the drawings as well as confirm that the scope of work and finish options selected are correct. Not only will this help to reduce the chance of your permit being rejected, but it could lead to cost savings if any errors or incorrect scope are discovered.
However, some projects are more complicated than others and may require more effort to get your permit. In this case, working closely with the city during your planning phases can help you have more success when submitting your application. The City of Austin’s Development Assistance Center can be a great resource for this.
You Didn’t Allow Enough Time for the Permitting Process
As we mentioned before, it can sometimes take months for you to receive your permit to begin work.
Because of this, it is important when looking for new office space that you begin the process well in advance of your required occupancy date.
Not only do you need enough time to see all options on the market and negotiate the best terms, but you also need to allow ample time to build out the space to meet your needs.
For a 20,000-square-foot build-out, our project managers recommend that you should allow at least 20 weeks for the build-out of a second-generation space and 32 weeks for a shell space, including 4 to 6 weeks for the bidding and permitting process.
Want to Speak with a Project Manager about Building Permits?
We hope this article helped answer some questions and calm some reservations you may have had about the permitting process in Austin.
If you would like help navigating the permitting process for your office construction project, contact our experienced project management team.
Or to learn more about what a project manager is and how they can help with your upcoming office build-out, check out these useful articles:
- Project Manager vs Construction Manager: What’s the Difference?
- What Is a Project Manager & How Can They Help Manage My Office Build-Out?
- 3 Benefits of Using a Project Manager for Your Renovation or Construction Project