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San Jose Building Permit Guide

Sam Lam

Sam Lam

Last updated:

Jun 13, 2024

Published:

June 13, 2024

Reading time:

5

minutes

Before diving into a new construction project in San Jose, you’ll need the right building permit. Whether you’re a permitting expert or this is your first time pulling a permit, it’s helpful to know the city’s unique requirements before getting started. 

Read this guide to San Jose building permits to learn what the city requires and how to navigate the application process. You’ll also learn important details like fees, standard vs. expedited applications, and more.

San Jose building permit requirements

When building, renovating, or demolishing a structure in San Jose, you should first check if you need a permit.

A building permit authorizes you to construct, alter, or remove a building, or to install certain equipment in an existing building. They exist to ensure that any work performed meets local codes and health or safety standards. Every city or jurisdiction has its own guidelines that determine which types of projects require a permit. 

Broadly speaking, you’ll need a San Jose building permit if you plan to:

  • Build a new residential or commercial building
  • Alter or add to an existing residential or commercial building
  • Demolish an existing structure
  • Install or remove most electrical, mechanical, or plumbing systems 

What requires a permit in San Jose?

Most projects beyond minor aesthetic changes, like painting or installing tiles, require a building permit.

Some of the many projects that require a permit in San Jose include:

  • Remodels involving major structural changes
  • New construction
  • Additions of more than 500 sq. ft.
  • Sheds and accessory buildings more than 120 sq. ft.
  • Adding plumbing, electrical, or mechanical systems to a structure
  • Fences more than 7 ft. tall
  • Removing load-bearing walls

Sub trade permits

A sub-trade permit is necessary for projects involving only plumbing, electrical, or mechanical fixtures, such as installing a water heater or replacing a furnace.

How long does it take to get San Jose building permits?

In San Jose, it can take anywhere from 10 to 40 or more weeks to get a building permit. 

Permit approval times depend on several factors, such as:

  • Scope of project
  • Type of construction
  • Square footage of the structure

The City of San Jose reviews plans in the order they’re received. As of publication in May 2024, the city has issued a notice that plan review timeframes are taking longer than usual due to a high volume of applications and limited staff availability. 

How much is a building permit in San Jose?

The cost of a San Jose building permit depends on the type of construction and the size of the structure.

Standard fees are:

  • Permit issuance fees: $211/hour
  • Plan review fees: $308/hour
  • Building inspection fees: $315/hour

However, the fee you owe may differ based on the square footage and the type of construction. For example, a permit issuance fee for a single-family alteration above 2,250 sq. ft. is $633 compared to a $1,266 issuance fee for single-family new construction of the same size.   

Payment methods include:

  • Pay online with an eCheck or credit card. Credit card payments are subject to a 2.4% fee.
  • Pay by wire transfer by emailing PermitCashier@sanjoseca.gov with the wire amount, date, and invoice number.
  • Pay by check — either mail the check or bring it in person to City Hall.
Note: If your building fees exceed $100,000 you must pay by check or wire transfer.

San Jose building permit process

Obtaining a building permit requires submitting your plans for review by a city official. In San Jose, you can opt for a standard or expedited plan review.

Standard plan check review

Most projects will undergo the standard plan review process, which may take 40 or more weeks to complete.

Here’s an overview of that permitting process:

1. Create an account online 

Create an account through San Jose’s permitting website. Once you’re logged in, click “Apply for New Permit” and use the Application Wizard to choose the right kind of application.

From there, add details about the:

  • Property location
  • Project collaborators
  • Scope of work

2. Upload plans to San Jose’s ePlans website

Separate from its permitting website, the City of San Jose has a website where applicants can upload project plans and documents for review. Upload your plans to the ePlans website for review.

Pro tip: Avoid back and forth by making sure any files you upload conform to the city’s file naming conventions.

3. Pay permit fee

Staff will only review your uploaded plans after you pay the plan review fee. If they notice that your San Jose building permit application is incomplete, they’ll contact you.

4. Undergo plan review 

Once you’ve paid required fees, staff will review your plans. They may comment on your plans and send markups through the ePlan portal. If necessary, respond to comments and resubmit any updated plans per their feedback. 

5. Receive your permit

When your plans are reviewed and approved, you’ll receive a final invoice. After paying required fees, you’ll receive your permit.

Expedited plan review

Certain projects qualify for expedited review, which usually takes between 10-12 weeks to complete. 

Expedited review is only available for projects that the city can review and approve within an hour. There are no specific guidelines on what does and does not qualify.

However, projects that may qualify include:

  • Special tenant improvements 
  • Industrial tool installation projects
  • Projects with square footage less than 5,000 sq. ft.

So how do you know if you qualify?

First, you’ll need the City of San Jose to screen the project by sharing your project name, address, and the scope of work. If approved, you’ll attend a virtual appointment with a city employee, who will determine if you qualify.

Keep in mind: Expedited plan checks cost 1.5 times more than standard plan checks.

Over-the-counter (OTC) service

Certain single-family and duplex residential projects can take advantage of San Jose’s in-person permitting service for faster results.

You’ll qualify for OTC service if you need a permit for:

  • One-story, single-family additions < 500 sq. ft. and remodels ≤ 750 sq. ft. (must not change weight-bearing walls or roof framing; plans must use conventional framing and codes)
  • A detached accessory building used as a shed or playhouse that is more than 120 sq. ft.
  • Certain patios and screen rooms
  • Fire or auto damage replacement
  • Siding and stucco replacement
  • Swimming pool removal and construction
  • Septic tank removal
  • Termite and dry rot repairs

San Jose building permit online application

To simplify the permitting process, the City of San Jose offers online applications for certain types of permits.

You can use the online application process if you need a permit for:

  • Single-family brace and bolt earthquake retrofits
  • Damage surveys
  • Single-family solar photovoltaic systems
  • Reroofing
  • Minor kitchen and bathroom remodels
  • Most electrical permits, like EV charging stations, light fixtures, and rewires
  • Most mechanical permits, like air conditioning, appliance installation, exhaust fans, and heat pumps
  • Most plumbing permits, like re-pipes, water heaters, and sanitary sewer replacements

To apply for a self-serve permit through the City of San Jose’s website, you must be a property owner or qualified contractor. If you’re a contractor, you may only apply for a permit that aligns with the classification of your Contractor’s License. You’ll also need a valid City of San Jose Tax Certificate to apply.

Make permitting easier with PermitFlow

Hiring a permit expediter is one way to simplify the permitting process. But working with PermitFlow will further streamline the process and elevate the experience of obtaining a San Jose building permit.

PermitFlow’s reliable and user-friendly software automates the manual work of pulling a permit, which means you’ll get your permit in your hands faster.  

Benefits of choosing PermitFlow include:

  • Access to experts: Our team of architects, structural engineers, former city planners, and permit specialists understands how to successfully navigate the San Jose permitting process.
  • Ease of use: The PermitFlow platform is a breeze to use and spares you the hassle of navigating the dense San Jose permit website.
  • A quicker process. Using PermitFlow can reduce errors in your submission, meaning you’ll get your permit faster. 

Before diving into a new construction project in San Jose, you’ll need the right building permit. Whether you’re a permitting expert or this is your first time pulling a permit, it’s helpful to know the city’s unique requirements before getting started. 

Read this guide to San Jose building permits to learn what the city requires and how to navigate the application process. You’ll also learn important details like fees, standard vs. expedited applications, and more.

San Jose building permit requirements

When building, renovating, or demolishing a structure in San Jose, you should first check if you need a permit.

A building permit authorizes you to construct, alter, or remove a building, or to install certain equipment in an existing building. They exist to ensure that any work performed meets local codes and health or safety standards. Every city or jurisdiction has its own guidelines that determine which types of projects require a permit. 

Broadly speaking, you’ll need a San Jose building permit if you plan to:

  • Build a new residential or commercial building
  • Alter or add to an existing residential or commercial building
  • Demolish an existing structure
  • Install or remove most electrical, mechanical, or plumbing systems 

What requires a permit in San Jose?

Most projects beyond minor aesthetic changes, like painting or installing tiles, require a building permit.

Some of the many projects that require a permit in San Jose include:

  • Remodels involving major structural changes
  • New construction
  • Additions of more than 500 sq. ft.
  • Sheds and accessory buildings more than 120 sq. ft.
  • Adding plumbing, electrical, or mechanical systems to a structure
  • Fences more than 7 ft. tall
  • Removing load-bearing walls

Sub trade permits

A sub-trade permit is necessary for projects involving only plumbing, electrical, or mechanical fixtures, such as installing a water heater or replacing a furnace.

How long does it take to get San Jose building permits?

In San Jose, it can take anywhere from 10 to 40 or more weeks to get a building permit. 

Permit approval times depend on several factors, such as:

  • Scope of project
  • Type of construction
  • Square footage of the structure

The City of San Jose reviews plans in the order they’re received. As of publication in May 2024, the city has issued a notice that plan review timeframes are taking longer than usual due to a high volume of applications and limited staff availability. 

How much is a building permit in San Jose?

The cost of a San Jose building permit depends on the type of construction and the size of the structure.

Standard fees are:

  • Permit issuance fees: $211/hour
  • Plan review fees: $308/hour
  • Building inspection fees: $315/hour

However, the fee you owe may differ based on the square footage and the type of construction. For example, a permit issuance fee for a single-family alteration above 2,250 sq. ft. is $633 compared to a $1,266 issuance fee for single-family new construction of the same size.   

Payment methods include:

  • Pay online with an eCheck or credit card. Credit card payments are subject to a 2.4% fee.
  • Pay by wire transfer by emailing PermitCashier@sanjoseca.gov with the wire amount, date, and invoice number.
  • Pay by check — either mail the check or bring it in person to City Hall.
Note: If your building fees exceed $100,000 you must pay by check or wire transfer.

San Jose building permit process

Obtaining a building permit requires submitting your plans for review by a city official. In San Jose, you can opt for a standard or expedited plan review.

Standard plan check review

Most projects will undergo the standard plan review process, which may take 40 or more weeks to complete.

Here’s an overview of that permitting process:

1. Create an account online 

Create an account through San Jose’s permitting website. Once you’re logged in, click “Apply for New Permit” and use the Application Wizard to choose the right kind of application.

From there, add details about the:

  • Property location
  • Project collaborators
  • Scope of work

2. Upload plans to San Jose’s ePlans website

Separate from its permitting website, the City of San Jose has a website where applicants can upload project plans and documents for review. Upload your plans to the ePlans website for review.

Pro tip: Avoid back and forth by making sure any files you upload conform to the city’s file naming conventions.

3. Pay permit fee

Staff will only review your uploaded plans after you pay the plan review fee. If they notice that your San Jose building permit application is incomplete, they’ll contact you.

4. Undergo plan review 

Once you’ve paid required fees, staff will review your plans. They may comment on your plans and send markups through the ePlan portal. If necessary, respond to comments and resubmit any updated plans per their feedback. 

5. Receive your permit

When your plans are reviewed and approved, you’ll receive a final invoice. After paying required fees, you’ll receive your permit.

Expedited plan review

Certain projects qualify for expedited review, which usually takes between 10-12 weeks to complete. 

Expedited review is only available for projects that the city can review and approve within an hour. There are no specific guidelines on what does and does not qualify.

However, projects that may qualify include:

  • Special tenant improvements 
  • Industrial tool installation projects
  • Projects with square footage less than 5,000 sq. ft.

So how do you know if you qualify?

First, you’ll need the City of San Jose to screen the project by sharing your project name, address, and the scope of work. If approved, you’ll attend a virtual appointment with a city employee, who will determine if you qualify.

Keep in mind: Expedited plan checks cost 1.5 times more than standard plan checks.

Over-the-counter (OTC) service

Certain single-family and duplex residential projects can take advantage of San Jose’s in-person permitting service for faster results.

You’ll qualify for OTC service if you need a permit for:

  • One-story, single-family additions < 500 sq. ft. and remodels ≤ 750 sq. ft. (must not change weight-bearing walls or roof framing; plans must use conventional framing and codes)
  • A detached accessory building used as a shed or playhouse that is more than 120 sq. ft.
  • Certain patios and screen rooms
  • Fire or auto damage replacement
  • Siding and stucco replacement
  • Swimming pool removal and construction
  • Septic tank removal
  • Termite and dry rot repairs

San Jose building permit online application

To simplify the permitting process, the City of San Jose offers online applications for certain types of permits.

You can use the online application process if you need a permit for:

  • Single-family brace and bolt earthquake retrofits
  • Damage surveys
  • Single-family solar photovoltaic systems
  • Reroofing
  • Minor kitchen and bathroom remodels
  • Most electrical permits, like EV charging stations, light fixtures, and rewires
  • Most mechanical permits, like air conditioning, appliance installation, exhaust fans, and heat pumps
  • Most plumbing permits, like re-pipes, water heaters, and sanitary sewer replacements

To apply for a self-serve permit through the City of San Jose’s website, you must be a property owner or qualified contractor. If you’re a contractor, you may only apply for a permit that aligns with the classification of your Contractor’s License. You’ll also need a valid City of San Jose Tax Certificate to apply.

Make permitting easier with PermitFlow

Hiring a permit expediter is one way to simplify the permitting process. But working with PermitFlow will further streamline the process and elevate the experience of obtaining a San Jose building permit.

PermitFlow’s reliable and user-friendly software automates the manual work of pulling a permit, which means you’ll get your permit in your hands faster.  

Benefits of choosing PermitFlow include:

  • Access to experts: Our team of architects, structural engineers, former city planners, and permit specialists understands how to successfully navigate the San Jose permitting process.
  • Ease of use: The PermitFlow platform is a breeze to use and spares you the hassle of navigating the dense San Jose permit website.
  • A quicker process. Using PermitFlow can reduce errors in your submission, meaning you’ll get your permit faster. 

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