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San Francisco Building Permit Guide

Britain Jacobson

Britain Jacobson

Last updated:

May 30, 2024

Published:

May 30, 2024

Reading time:

5

minutes

The Complete San Francisco Building Permit Guide

Whether you’re a homeowner renovating your house or a developer constructing a new office building, you’ll need to navigate San Francisco’s permitting process. Before applying for a permit, get your ducks in a row and study up on the unique policies and building codes that govern construction projects.

This guide outlines the permitting process in California’s Bay Area. We cover permit costs, requirements, timelines, and more.

What requires a building permit in San Francisco?

San Francisco building permit requirements are similar to other cities’ requirements in California and throughout the United States. Generally, you’ll need a building permit in San Francisco for any construction work or major renovation project.

The city requires anyone developing land or altering existing structures to obtain a permit certifying that their plans are safe and meet city building codes.

Examples of projects that require a permit in San Fran include:

  • New construction  
  • Additions to existing buildings
  • Interior and exterior alterations
  • Changing how a building is used or occupied
  • Changing a building’s floor plan
  • Building fences, sheds, or garages
  • Erecting signs or installing awnings
  • Installing or replacing plumbing, electrical, mechanical, or HVAC equipment
  • Building swimming pools 
  • Demolishing buildings

Who oversees permits in San Francisco?

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) oversees permitting in the city. 

DBI’s Permit Services department issues building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and other construction permits to ensure all proposed projects meet safety standards.

San Francisco Department of Building Inspection resources

Contact information

  • San Francisco building department phone number: (628) 652-3230
  • Email: dbicustomerservice@sfgov.org
  • Permit Center address: 49 South Van Ness Avenue (49 SVN)

How much is a building permit in San Francisco?

A building permit in San Francisco costs 6-9% of the building costs. 

Exact permit fees vary based on the type of permit you need and the value of the project. View the San Fran DBI fee schedule for more details and to get a better estimate of the cost of your building permit.

How much does it cost to build per square foot in San Francisco?

The average cost to build in San Francisco is $440 per square foot. San Fran is consistently ranked as the most expensive place in the world to build

3 types of San Francisco building permits

There are 3 main types of permits:

  1. In-house permits
  2. Over-the-counter permits
  3. Instant online permits 

San Francisco building permits

In-house permits

In-house permits are designed for more complex projects. You can apply for an in-house permit via electronic plan review (EPR) or with paper plans.

In-house permits are required for projects such as:

  • New construction
  • Additions and expansions
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Exterior work on Historic Resource Buildings
  • Roof deck construction
  • Windscreens over 42 inches
  • New stairs, decks, and firewalls more than 10 feet high
  • Change of occupancy
  • Interior remodels that involve demolishing more than 75% of interior walls
Note: DBI is transitioning to a 100% electronic plan review starting January 1, 2024.

Over-the-counter (OTC) permits

Over-the-counter permits are designed for simple applications. 

OTC permits are available for projects like:

  • Interior residential remodels, such as kitchen and bath remodels.
  • Exterior residential remodels, such as reroofing, deck construction, and fence installation. 
  • Simple commercial projects including commercial tenant improvements, office remodels, power door operator installation, and Accessible Business Entrance compliance projects.
  • Soft story retrofits
  • Sign or awning installations
  • Existing laundromat alterations

You can apply for an OTC permit by filling out a Form 3/8 (also known as the pink form) and dropping it off in-person at the Permit Center.

Instant online permits

Registered contractors can instantly obtain electrical, plumbing, reroofing, kitchen and bath, and solar permits online.

Contractors seeking approval for instant online permits can register with the city as a licensed contractor.

San Francisco permitting process

To successfully and quickly obtain a permit, you’ll have to do the required prep work and prepare your application in accordance with the city’s step-by-step process.

Below, we outline what to do before applying and how to submit a permit application.

What to do before applying

Follow these steps to prepare for your construction project before submitting an application:

  1. Determine whether your project requires a permit. Some work can be performed without a permit.
  2. Check and resolve complaints against your property
  3. Check your property’s environmental categories
  4. Determine your property’s historic resource status
  5. Check water use rules that apply to your project
  6. Determine whether your project requires Health Plan Review
  7. Assess neighborhood development processes to ensure your project meets city requirements to keep neighborhoods livable
  8. See if your permit requires architectural plans (most do)
  9. Consider scheduling a pre-application meeting with DBI or the Fire Department to review building code issues before applying

How to apply for a building permit

To apply for a building permit, first fill out the correct form that corresponds with the type of permit you need.

There are 8 forms:

  • Form 1: For Type I, II, III, or IV construction of new buildings
  • Form 2: For Type V construction of new wood-frame buildings
  • Form 3: For additions, alterations, and repairs
  • Form 4: For signs that require DBI review 
  • Form 5: For excavation, fill, grading, or quarries
  • Form 6: For demolitions.
  • Form 7: For painted signs 
  • Form 8: For small projects that can be reviewed over the counter or that don’t require plans 

You’ll also have to fill out the following:

  • Permit Applicant and authorized agent form
  • Project application (PRJ) from the SF Planning Department
  • School Facility Fee form for new construction, additions, or building enlargement projects
  • Water use forms if the project involves water fixtures or a new utility line
  • Green Energy forms

Beyond completing the right forms, there are a few more steps you’ll have to take before submitting your application.

Be sure to:

  • File a labor compliance bond if your project has 10+ residential units
  • Register to track your construction waste if applicable
  • Prepare PDF plans created by an architect, engineer, or designer for the city’s electronic review software, Bluebeam.
Note: Keep in mind that over-the-counter permit applications require you to go in person to the Permit Center. 

How long does it take to get a building permit in San Francisco?

In general, it may take 2 - 12 months to get a building permit in San Francisco.

It can take a few months for your project to be assigned to a plan reviewer. Once a project is assigned to a reviewer, the review process generally begins the following week. 

Factors that impact permitting timelines include:

  • The type of permit you apply for
  • The scope of the project
  • How many other projects and plans are submitted before yours

Hiring a San Francisco permit expediter

San Francisco’s DBI has digitized much of the permit process, but there’s still a lot of work that goes into applying for a permit. One solution to this problem is to hire a permit expediter.

A permit expediter is a service provider who prepares and submits a permit application on your behalf. This third party takes the tedious work of filling out forms and preparing documents off your plate, allowing you to focus on other work. Working with a permit expediter may speed up the permitting process and help you get your permit faster.

When hiring a San Francisco permit expediter, make sure they have plenty of experience and local knowledge about San Fran’s building codes and permit policies.

Simplify the permitting process with PermitFlow

Want an even better alternative to hiring a permit expediter? Work with PermitFlow.

PermitFlow is state-of-the-art permitting software that automates the permitting process. From preparing the application to submitting it and tracking its progress, PermitFlow does the hard work for you. By choosing PermitFlow, you’ll save time and get your permit in your hands as fast as possible.

The benefits of PermitFlow include:

  • Working with a team of experts. PermitFlow has prepared and obtained permits for developers, homeowners, and contractors across the country, so you can trust your application is in good hands.
  • Automating tedious work. No one wants to waste time navigating the DBI’s website. Let PermitFlow handle that tiresome work for you.
  • Get your permit faster. PermitFlow’s software makes sure your application is completed correctly and submitted quickly.

The Complete San Francisco Building Permit Guide

Whether you’re a homeowner renovating your house or a developer constructing a new office building, you’ll need to navigate San Francisco’s permitting process. Before applying for a permit, get your ducks in a row and study up on the unique policies and building codes that govern construction projects.

This guide outlines the permitting process in California’s Bay Area. We cover permit costs, requirements, timelines, and more.

What requires a building permit in San Francisco?

San Francisco building permit requirements are similar to other cities’ requirements in California and throughout the United States. Generally, you’ll need a building permit in San Francisco for any construction work or major renovation project.

The city requires anyone developing land or altering existing structures to obtain a permit certifying that their plans are safe and meet city building codes.

Examples of projects that require a permit in San Fran include:

  • New construction  
  • Additions to existing buildings
  • Interior and exterior alterations
  • Changing how a building is used or occupied
  • Changing a building’s floor plan
  • Building fences, sheds, or garages
  • Erecting signs or installing awnings
  • Installing or replacing plumbing, electrical, mechanical, or HVAC equipment
  • Building swimming pools 
  • Demolishing buildings

Who oversees permits in San Francisco?

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) oversees permitting in the city. 

DBI’s Permit Services department issues building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and other construction permits to ensure all proposed projects meet safety standards.

San Francisco Department of Building Inspection resources

Contact information

  • San Francisco building department phone number: (628) 652-3230
  • Email: dbicustomerservice@sfgov.org
  • Permit Center address: 49 South Van Ness Avenue (49 SVN)

How much is a building permit in San Francisco?

A building permit in San Francisco costs 6-9% of the building costs. 

Exact permit fees vary based on the type of permit you need and the value of the project. View the San Fran DBI fee schedule for more details and to get a better estimate of the cost of your building permit.

How much does it cost to build per square foot in San Francisco?

The average cost to build in San Francisco is $440 per square foot. San Fran is consistently ranked as the most expensive place in the world to build

3 types of San Francisco building permits

There are 3 main types of permits:

  1. In-house permits
  2. Over-the-counter permits
  3. Instant online permits 

San Francisco building permits

In-house permits

In-house permits are designed for more complex projects. You can apply for an in-house permit via electronic plan review (EPR) or with paper plans.

In-house permits are required for projects such as:

  • New construction
  • Additions and expansions
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Exterior work on Historic Resource Buildings
  • Roof deck construction
  • Windscreens over 42 inches
  • New stairs, decks, and firewalls more than 10 feet high
  • Change of occupancy
  • Interior remodels that involve demolishing more than 75% of interior walls
Note: DBI is transitioning to a 100% electronic plan review starting January 1, 2024.

Over-the-counter (OTC) permits

Over-the-counter permits are designed for simple applications. 

OTC permits are available for projects like:

  • Interior residential remodels, such as kitchen and bath remodels.
  • Exterior residential remodels, such as reroofing, deck construction, and fence installation. 
  • Simple commercial projects including commercial tenant improvements, office remodels, power door operator installation, and Accessible Business Entrance compliance projects.
  • Soft story retrofits
  • Sign or awning installations
  • Existing laundromat alterations

You can apply for an OTC permit by filling out a Form 3/8 (also known as the pink form) and dropping it off in-person at the Permit Center.

Instant online permits

Registered contractors can instantly obtain electrical, plumbing, reroofing, kitchen and bath, and solar permits online.

Contractors seeking approval for instant online permits can register with the city as a licensed contractor.

San Francisco permitting process

To successfully and quickly obtain a permit, you’ll have to do the required prep work and prepare your application in accordance with the city’s step-by-step process.

Below, we outline what to do before applying and how to submit a permit application.

What to do before applying

Follow these steps to prepare for your construction project before submitting an application:

  1. Determine whether your project requires a permit. Some work can be performed without a permit.
  2. Check and resolve complaints against your property
  3. Check your property’s environmental categories
  4. Determine your property’s historic resource status
  5. Check water use rules that apply to your project
  6. Determine whether your project requires Health Plan Review
  7. Assess neighborhood development processes to ensure your project meets city requirements to keep neighborhoods livable
  8. See if your permit requires architectural plans (most do)
  9. Consider scheduling a pre-application meeting with DBI or the Fire Department to review building code issues before applying

How to apply for a building permit

To apply for a building permit, first fill out the correct form that corresponds with the type of permit you need.

There are 8 forms:

  • Form 1: For Type I, II, III, or IV construction of new buildings
  • Form 2: For Type V construction of new wood-frame buildings
  • Form 3: For additions, alterations, and repairs
  • Form 4: For signs that require DBI review 
  • Form 5: For excavation, fill, grading, or quarries
  • Form 6: For demolitions.
  • Form 7: For painted signs 
  • Form 8: For small projects that can be reviewed over the counter or that don’t require plans 

You’ll also have to fill out the following:

  • Permit Applicant and authorized agent form
  • Project application (PRJ) from the SF Planning Department
  • School Facility Fee form for new construction, additions, or building enlargement projects
  • Water use forms if the project involves water fixtures or a new utility line
  • Green Energy forms

Beyond completing the right forms, there are a few more steps you’ll have to take before submitting your application.

Be sure to:

  • File a labor compliance bond if your project has 10+ residential units
  • Register to track your construction waste if applicable
  • Prepare PDF plans created by an architect, engineer, or designer for the city’s electronic review software, Bluebeam.
Note: Keep in mind that over-the-counter permit applications require you to go in person to the Permit Center. 

How long does it take to get a building permit in San Francisco?

In general, it may take 2 - 12 months to get a building permit in San Francisco.

It can take a few months for your project to be assigned to a plan reviewer. Once a project is assigned to a reviewer, the review process generally begins the following week. 

Factors that impact permitting timelines include:

  • The type of permit you apply for
  • The scope of the project
  • How many other projects and plans are submitted before yours

Hiring a San Francisco permit expediter

San Francisco’s DBI has digitized much of the permit process, but there’s still a lot of work that goes into applying for a permit. One solution to this problem is to hire a permit expediter.

A permit expediter is a service provider who prepares and submits a permit application on your behalf. This third party takes the tedious work of filling out forms and preparing documents off your plate, allowing you to focus on other work. Working with a permit expediter may speed up the permitting process and help you get your permit faster.

When hiring a San Francisco permit expediter, make sure they have plenty of experience and local knowledge about San Fran’s building codes and permit policies.

Simplify the permitting process with PermitFlow

Want an even better alternative to hiring a permit expediter? Work with PermitFlow.

PermitFlow is state-of-the-art permitting software that automates the permitting process. From preparing the application to submitting it and tracking its progress, PermitFlow does the hard work for you. By choosing PermitFlow, you’ll save time and get your permit in your hands as fast as possible.

The benefits of PermitFlow include:

  • Working with a team of experts. PermitFlow has prepared and obtained permits for developers, homeowners, and contractors across the country, so you can trust your application is in good hands.
  • Automating tedious work. No one wants to waste time navigating the DBI’s website. Let PermitFlow handle that tiresome work for you.
  • Get your permit faster. PermitFlow’s software makes sure your application is completed correctly and submitted quickly.
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