BPC-005 When Is a Building Permit Not Required?
This page provides a list of work that does not require a building permit in unincorporated Sonoma County.
All construction activity, from initial site grading to interior improvements, alterations and most repairs requires a building permit unless the work is specifically exempted by the California Building Code appendix Chapter 1 and Chapter 7 of the Sonoma County Code.
Work Exempt from a Building Permit
The following is a list of building, electrical, gas, mechanical, and plumbing work that may be performed without a building permit. If your project does not appear on this list of exempt work, you should assume that a building permit is required.
Note: Although some work is exempt from a building permit, additional permits or review may be required. Before a building or structure is erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished, it is important to contact the appropriate staff at Permit Sonoma to determine if any other permit or technical review is required.
Although a building permit is not required, the exempt construction/work must be code compliant. For example, re-striping a commercial parking lot is exempt from a building permit, however, the striping must conform to building code standards for accessibility and Zoning standards for parking lot design. Failure to comply with code requirements may constitute a violation.
Video: "No Permit Required"
A video discussing some of the more popular projects that do not require a Building permit.
Accessory Structures (Non-Dwelling)
One-story detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds, playhouses or similar uses when located on a parcel which contains an existing single-family dwelling or other permitted primary use or structure. Such structures shall not have a floor area that exceeds 120 square feet and the height above grade shall not exceed 12 feet. No more than one structure may be allowed under this exemption unless separated from another permit exempt structure by more than 50 feet.
Note: Electrical, mechanical, or plumbing work in connection with such structures requires a Building Permit with No Plan Check even though a building permit is not required for the structure itself.
Prefabricated structures not more than 500 square feet in area, constructed of light frame materials and covered with cloth or flexible plastic which has a thickness no greater than 5/1000 of an inch, accessory to a single-family dwelling, with no associated electrical, plumbing, or mechanical equipment and the height above existing grade does not exceed 12 feet.
Children’s Play Structures
Swings, play structures, and other playground equipment, treehouses with a floor area less than 120 square feet, and skateboard ramps, accessory to detached one and two family dwellings, which are not used for commercial purposes, and children's play structures when constructed on a parcel which contains a one or two- family dwelling or a State licensed school or day care center.
Painting, interior papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops, and similar finish work
Replacement of windows and doors with others of the same size, and in the same location when the structural frame of the opening is not altered
The following are exempt from a building permit. (Measured from the lowest grade to the top of the fence):
- Open fence (such as wood lattice or wire mesh) that is 10 feet or less in height
- Solid fence (such as solid wood, concrete, or masonry) that is 7 feet or less in height
- 7 feet or less solid fence topped with 3 feet or less of open fence (that is 10 feet or less in combined height)
Note: While a fence may be exempt from a building permit, other permits or approvals may be required, such as, but not limited to, use permits, design review, and/or coastal permits. In general, fences over 3 feet in height within the front yard setback, or over 6 feet in height within the rear and side yard setbacks are likely to require a use permit, despite the exemption from a building permit. If your fence exceeds these limits, contact Permit Sonoma Planning staff to determine if permits other than a building permit are required. A site plan showing the location of the proposed fence is required to make this determination.
Retaining walls, which retain not more than 3 feet of material unless supporting a surcharge or impounding class I, II, IIIA liquids. For the purpose of this section, a retaining wall is considered to be a supporting surcharge if:
- The wall retains more than one (1) foot of material and the retained material slopes more than two (2) units horizontal to one (1) vertical within a distance equal to twice the height of the wall above the lowest existing grade;
- The wall retains more than one (1) foot of material and any road or structure is located on the retaining material within a distance equal to twice the height of the wall above the lowest existing grade.
Platforms, walks, non-structural slabs, paving or seal coats on private property not in the county- right- of way, and decks not more than thirty (30) inches above grade (measured from the walking surface) and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.
- Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters, and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches high (for commercial occupancies) and temporary motion picture, television and theater stage, seats and scenery.
- Membrane structures (e.g., tents and awnings) erected for less than 180 days in any twelve-month period.
- Window awnings supported by an exterior wall o fa residence or residential garage which does not project more than 54 inches.
- Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agriculture purposes, not including service systems. (Plumbing, electrical or mechanical systems associated with the structure require permits.)
- Residential Arbors, trellises, and gazebos, when the height above grade does not exceed 12 feet. For the purpose of this section, trellises, arbors and gazebos are considered for detached shade structures accessory to residential occupancies and are defined as follows:
- Structures which have a lattice or fabric roof structure;
- 75% of the exterior walls are not less than 75% open;
- A structure which a motor vehicle cannot be driven into due to the configuration of the structure or placement on the site;
- Electrical, plumbing or mechanical equipment contained within the structure shall require a permit.
Prefabricated Swimming Pools
Prefabricated pools accessory to a single-family dwelling, which do not exceed 5,000 gallons and are installed entirely above ground
Tanks, not containing class I, II, IIIA liquids whether underground or supported directly upon grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2 to 1
State Owned Building under the Jurisdiction of the State Fire Marshal
- Minor repair of interior paneling or gypsum wallboard when it does not serve as a fire resistive assembly or as lateral bracing for a structure. Such repair is limited to 100 square feet (additional work in excess of 100 square feet requires a permit). This exemption shall not apply to structures subject to flood damage.
- Removal of up to 25% of exterior and/or interior coverings on walls or roofs or similar work for the purpose of determining the condition of structural members in a structure where work is being planned. Such work may remain exposed for a maximum of 90 days before being repaired. A permit must be obtained for the repairs unless exempted by the Sonoma County Code.
2-bin trash enclosure covers with a height not exceeding 12 feet
- Minor repair work, including the replacement of lamps or the connection of approved portable electrical equipment to approved permanently installed receptacles;
- Electrical equipment used for radio and television transmissions;
- Installation of temporary systems required for the testing or serving of electrical equipment or apparatus;
- Listed (by any approved listing agency, e.g. U.L.) cord and plug connected temporary decorative lighting;
- Reinstallation or replacement of attachment plug receptacles, but not the outlets;
- Repair or replacement or branch circuits or overcurrent devices of the required capacity in the same location;
- Installation or maintenance of communications wiring, devices, appliances, apparatus or equipment.
- Portable heating appliances
- The replacement of any minor part that does not alter approval of equipment or make such equipment unsafe
- Portable fuel-cell appliances that are not connected to a fixed piping system and are not interconnected to a power grid
- Portable heating appliances, portable ventilation equipment, portable cooling units, and portable evaporative coolers. Portable fuel-cell appliances that are not connected to affixed piping system and are not interconnected to a power grid
- Steam, hot or chilled water piping within any heating or cooling equipment regulated by this code
- Self-contained refrigeration system containing 10 pounds or less of refrigerant and actuated by motors of 1 horsepower or less
- The replacement of any part that does not alter the equipment’s approval or make it unsafe
- The stopping of leaks in drains, water, soil, waste or vent piping. However, if any concealed trap, drain pipe, water, soil, waste or vent pipe becomes defective and it becomes necessary to remove and replace the same with new material, a permit shall be obtained and inspections made
- The clearing of stoppages or the repairing of leaks in pipes, valves or fixtures and the removal and reinstallation of water closets, provided such repairs do not involve or require the replacement or rearrangement of valves, pipes or fixtures
- Replacement of existing plumbing fixtures for low flow plumbing fixtures in accordance with Section 1101.1 California Civil Code