Frequently Asked Questions About Rebuilding
Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to rebuilding in unincorporated Sonoma County after major wildfires.
FAQs are grouped by category. Some FAQs may apply to more than one category, so if you don't see your question(s) in one category, be sure to check the other categories.
Note: The term "major wildfires," contained within the FAQs below, refers to the major wildfires for which the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has invoked disaster recovery urgency ordinances. These events include:
- 2020 Glass Fire
- 2020 Walbridge and Meyers Fires (LNU Lightning Complex)
- 2019 Kincade Fire
- 2017 Sonoma Complex Fire
Last updated November 18, 2020
Accessory Dwelling Units and Non-Dwelling Accessory Structures
What is the difference between an Accessory Dwelling Unit vs. a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit vs. a guest house?
|Structure Type||Accessory Dwelling Unit||Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit||Guest House|
|Structure||May be attached to or detached from the main dwelling.||Must be created from, and within the footprint of, an existing, legally permitted bedroom that shares at least 1 full wall with the rest of the home.|
|Kitchen||Must have a full kitchen.||Must have an efficiency kitchen. (See "Efficiency kitchen" Sec. 26-02-140)||Cannot have a kitchen or wet bar.|
|Bathroom||Must have a full bathroom.||Must have direct access to a bathroom, either inside the unit or in the main house.||May have a half or full bath.|
|Long-Term Rental||Can be rented.||Can be rented.||Cannot be rented or occupied separately from the main house.|
|Transient Rental||May not be used as a vacation rental.||May not be used as a vacation rental.||May be able to be used as part of a vacation rental or hosted rental with a zoning permit.|
|Z Combining District||Prohibited in the Z Combining District.||Allowed in the Z Combining District.||Allowed in the Z Combining District.|
|Size Limit||Cannot exceed 1,200 square feet.||Cannot exceed 500 square feet.||Cannot exceed 640 square feet.|
|Permits||Usually requires a Zoning Permit.||Allowed with a Building Permit in all zones where residences are allowed.||Allowed with a Building Permit in all residential and agricultural zones.|
|More Information||Accessory Dwelling Units||Junior Accessory Dwelling Units||1-4-6 Detached Residential Accessory Structures|
|Zoning Code||Sec. 26-88-060||Sec. 26-88-061||"Guest house" Sec. 26-02-140|
Can I build an accessory dwelling unit to live in before constructing my primary residence?
In most cases you can build an accessory dwelling unit on your property and live in it before you rebuild your main house as long as adequate water and sewer or septic can be demonstrated.
Parcel Size: There is no minimum lot size for an accessory dwelling unit, but adequate water and sewer or septic must be demonstrated.
Caution: There are other zoning restrictions, so please visit the Accessory Dwelling Unit website to find out if your property qualifies for an accessory dwelling unit, or speak with a planner in person at the zoning desk at Permit Sonoma, by phone, or by email.
Can I convert a portion of my home into a Junior Dwelling Unit when I rebuild?
Yes, if the rebuild is converting a bedroom to a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit by adding an efficiency kitchen it can be permitted with a building and zoning permit. If the rebuild is to convert existing space into a bedroom or add a bedroom for a Junior Dwelling Unit, it will be subject to these requirements for the non-bedroom space:
- The room to be converted shares at least one full wall with the existing single family dwelling.
- The room is permitted as a new legal bedroom and meets the standards for a Junior Dwelling Unit. This includes meeting all permit requirements (e.g. Building Permits, Well and/or Septic permits, etc.).
- The Building Permit for the new bedroom is finaled, and,
- The permit for a Junior Dwelling Unit is issued.
If you are rebuilding as a result damage or destruction from a major wildfire you may apply to have a non-bedroom space converted into a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit with the same building permit provided there is adequate septic or sewer capacity available.
More information on the siting requirements and development standards for Junior Accessory Dwelling Units
Can I add a new bedroom outside the existing footprint of my single family dwelling and then convert it into a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit or an Accessory Dwelling Unit?
Yes, homes destroyed by fire can be rebuilt and expanded to add additional units, including a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit by converting a bedroom to add an efficiency kitchen that meets the development standards for Junior Dwelling Units; or by adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit. The property must meet the site requirements for minimum parcel size and water availability and have adequate septic capability, and the unit must meet the design and development standards. Junior and Accessory Dwelling units do not count towards the maximum allowable density. Both type of units can be added to a residential site with the primary dwelling unit if the standards can be met.
More information on the siting requirements and development standards for Junior Accessory Dwelling Units
- Rebuilding & Accessory Dwelling Units
- Accessory Dwelling Units & Junior Accessory Dwelling Units Permitting Information
Can I rebuild a garage or other accessory structure or continue an accessory use prior to rebuilding my home?
Yes. The County can authorize reconstruction of an accessory structure on a case-by-case basis. In most cases all proposed structures should be submitted with the Site Plan required with any building plan sets. The site plan and building permits for all associated structures can then be approved at the same time.
Can my house be rebuilt if it is destroyed by fire or flood?
Yes, any legal dwelling unit destroyed by fire or flood can be rebuilt. Current building code requirements would be applied and the septic system may need to be brought into compliance with current codes.
- Non-conforming dwellings (those built legally but which do not meet current setbacks or density) can generally be rebuilt.
- Houses that meet the allowable density but do not meet the setbacks may be rebuilt on the original footprint (i.e. same size and location) and can be expanded in size provided that the improvements do not increase the non-conforming portion of the structure, such as encroaching further into the setback.)
- Houses destroyed by fire that exceed the allowable density may also be rebuilt at the same size and location, but expansion is limited to a maximum of 10% of the original floor area.
When a home is rebuilt, must it be built in compliance with current building codes?
Yes. On January 1, 2020, the 2019 California Residential Code will go into effect. More information: 2019 California Residential Code
Do you have a list of California Building Code upgrades?
The California Building Code (CBC) has expanded significantly over the past 60 years. The CBC is revised and updated regularly. The CBC was further expanded by inclusion of the California Residential Code (CRC) in 2010.
The California Energy Code has required substantial energy efficiency increases over the last four code cycles (12 years).
The California Green Building Code was adopted in 2010, which added more requirements.
View a partial list of "code upgrades" (PDF) a replacement home will require. The year the home was built and the year of any remodel and/or addition can impact the amount of "code upgrades."
Can I rebuild my home on its original footprint even if it would not meet the current Riparian Corridor setbacks?
If your original home was legally constructed before the Riparian Corridor regulations went into effect, your replacement home may be constructed on the same footprint as the original house. However, you are encouraged to locate your replacement home further away from the river or stream if feasible. No planning permit is required as long as the replacement home is not any larger than the original house.
Will I need to upgrade my driveway entrance when rebuilding after the fire?
Permit Sonoma will not require driveway entrance upgrades for rebuilds due to major wildfires. This policy modification only applies to rebuilds destroyed by major wildfires. Current policy is still in effect for everything else. You will also need to check with Sonoma County Fire Prevention to determine whether they have any additional requirements for the driveway.
What design professionals will I need to hire as I rebuild my home?
It depends on the design of the home. At a minimum, a simple home design would require, a designer, and a Calgreen and Energy consultant. More complex designs would require an architect, a civil engineer, a geotechnical engineer, and a Calgreen and Energy consultant. Note: The majority of rebuilt homes in the burn areas will require a geotechnical engineer to evaluate the soils. A septic consultant will be required to evaluate the functionality of the existing septic system.
Is a soils report required on each individual lot a requirement to rebuild?
A soils analysis of the burned area (house footprint) will be required. See Technical Bulletin B-28 When is a Soils Investigation Required? for more information.
If the house that I plan to rebuild has 10,000 square feet or more of impervious surface, do I need to adhere to Low Impact Development requirements for post-construction best management practices (BMP) implementation?
When rebuilding, do I need to do Energy Calculations and comply with the provisions of CALGreen??
Yes, you will need to do Energy Calculations and you will need to comply with the provision of CALGreen. For more information, visit BPC-002 Residential Plan Checklist
If a home that burned down had an EPA compliant wood stove in it, can another be reinstalled?
It depends. If they are in the northern air quality control district, then yes. If they are in the Bay Area Air Quality Control District, then no. For more information, visit Bay Area Air Quality Control District Wood-burning Device Regulations
Can a house be rebuilt on a fire-damaged foundation?
Applicants who wish to use the existing foundation systems must have a “suitability analysis” of the existing foundation performed by a registered civil or structural engineer. This analysis shall state that the engineer has visited the site and investigated the condition of the existing building elements. It shall also state that the remaining foundation is suitable for the support of the new structure, and that all under-slab utility systems (such as drain, waste, vent, water, mechanical, electrical, etc.) are suitable for continued use. Electrical conduits may remain but all under-slab electrical conductors must be replaced.
Can I leave my damaged foundation in place and enclose my old foundation with a new foundation?
Yes, provided the new foundation does not rely on the structural integrity of the old foundation.
Easements/Rights of Way
Will I need a new encroachment permit with fee?
A new encroachment permit is only required if the work is in the County right-of-way.
Can I store materials in the County right-of-way?
No, you cannot store materials in the County right-of-way.
Can I rebuild a structure within a public or private road easement?
No, you cannot rebuild a structure within a public or private road easement.
Fees and Terms
Will any fees be waived for reconstruction in the fire area?
Development impact fees for schools, parks, traffic, sewer, water, and affordable housing do not apply to reconstruction of an existing structure with the same floor area. Impact fees may apply to additional floor area beyond the original structure, such as when a bedroom is added.
Permit processing fees, such as those for building permits and land use permits, will apply to reconstruction and are generally covered by insurance. These permit fees have been reduced reflecting the accelerated process for Rebuilding permitting.
If I increase the size of my home when I rebuild, will I have to pay permit fees and school fees on the increased square footage?
Development impact fees for schools, parks, traffic, sewer, water and affordable housing do not apply to reconstruction of an existing structure with the same floor area. Impact fees would apply to additional floor area beyond the original structure, such as when a bedroom is added. If the size of the original residence is being increased to add an accessory dwelling unit, then park and traffic fees will be reduced or waived in the fire areas.
Would a new buyer (of a property that was burned) be able to rebuild according to the same terms and policies that are applied to fire victims?
Yes. The terms and policies for rebuilding properties damaged by the fire are in place regardless of ownership.
Do Wildland Urban Interface (California Building Code Chapter R337 WUI/SRA) construction methods and materials apply to rebuilding?
Yes, these standards do apply within the State Responsibility Area. More information: State Responsibility Area Map Viewer
Are sprinklers required for all new residential structures?
Yes, they are required for all new residential structures. More information: Wildland-Urban Interface and Sprinkler Related Procedures (PDF: 44.4 kB)
Do I need a licensed fire protection contractor to design and install the sprinkler system?
Yes, you need a licensed fire protection contractor to design and install the sprinkler system. More information: Contractor Licensing Classifications
Fire Protection Clearing
Must fire clearing and access width requirements be met for all rebuilds in High & Very High Fire Severity Zones?
Yes. This is required in all areas of the County regardless of zones.
What clearing is allowed by the County for fire prevention purposes around buildings?
In general, there are no restrictions to clearing around buildings for fire prevention purposes. However, clearing within a riparian corridor is limited to the minimum necessary and no redwood trees are removed.
Are any permits required to clear up to 100 feet away (Defensible Space) from an existing residence?
No. Clearing for fire protection purposes can be done within 100 feet of existing dwelling units without a permit, provided that clearing is not performed by an excavator or bulldozer. This does not authorize off-site clearing, although clearing in cooperation with your neighbors is encouraged.
If a building permit has been issued for a proposed building, is an additional clearing permit required to clear?
No additional clearing permit is required.
Who is responsible for clearing the brush from around buildings?
The property owner. Sonoma County has a free curbside chipper program that you may want to utilize. More information: Curbside Chipper Program
Who enforces the regulations regarding clearance of fuel around buildings?
In coordination with State and Local Fire Districts, the Permit Sonoma Fire Prevention Division and the Permit Sonoma Code Enforcement Division will work together to enforce weed abatement programs, requiring the clearance of flammable vegetation from around buildings.
Where can I find resources on how to make new homes less vulnerable to the risk of wildfires?
Information: Wildfire Preparedness
Can new structures be placed in the F1 Floodway or F2 Floodplain?
No new structures are allowed in the floodway. New structures may be located in the floodplain, but the building's finished floor must be at least one foot above the base flood elevation. More information: Construction Limitations Within The F-1 Floodway (PDF: 49.4 kB)
If my home was in the F1 Floodway, can I rebuild it in its existing location?
Yes. A home destroyed or damaged by a major wildfire may be rebuilt on its original foundation footprint if a building permit is issued by December 31, 2019. The home will have to be elevated 1 foot above the base flood elevation. However, it is strongly encouraged that the home be rebuilt outside of the hazard zone if feasible. More information: Construction Limitations Within The F-1 Floodway (PDF: 49.4 kB)
If my home was in the F2 Floodplain, can I rebuild it in its existing location?
Yes, and the home will have to be elevated 1 foot above the base flood elevation. More information: Sonoma County Code 7B-Flood Damage Prevention
Do I need to have a survey done to re-establish a lot line when rebuilding my property?
No survey will be required except for the following limited instances:
- The structure has zero lot line setback.
- During the first inspection, the Permit Sonoma inspector cannot clearly see a marked offset that complies with drawings and existing structures/houses/trees, etc.
Do I need to mark my property line prior to building inspections?
Yes, prior to the first inspection, all sites must have clear paint or string Property Line markers.
The following Land Surveying-related FAQs were written by the Sonoma County Chapter of the California Land Surveyors’ Association and are intended as an informational resource for residents affected by wildfires.
What is a professional land surveyor and why would I need one?
A Professional Land Surveyor is the only person licensed and authorized by the State of California to determine and physically locate the boundary lines of your property.
I don’t need to know exactly where my property line is. Can you just show the boundary as approximate?
Surveyors do not show approximate boundary lines on maps.
What is a boundary survey?
A boundary survey is a process by which a Surveyor can determine and mark a legal description physically on the ground. This may include placing durable monuments at or near property corners or temporary wood stakes along a property line. Once completed the Land Surveyor is required to file a Record of Survey at the County recorder’s office.
On smaller sites or when development is proposed near a boundary line, the location of the boundary line must be precisely determined in order to protect the rights of you and your neighbors as well as to adhere to City or County regulations.
What is the difference between a boundary retracement and a boundary survey?
If a boundary has been previously shown on a map of record (Record of Survey, Parcel Map or Final Map), a boundary retracement may be done to locate and flag existing monuments at or near the property corners. Missing corners will not be reset.
In a boundary survey, existing corners will be found and flagged. Missing corners and/or previously unmarked corners will be set. The setting of any monuments requires filing documentation with the County. Your Surveyor will determine the appropriate documents to file based on the condition of the existing monuments found during your survey.
Lots in subdivisions are generally shown on a map of record and a boundary retracement may be performed, provided existing monuments are sufficient to retrace the filed map.
Deed described parcels that have not been previously shown on a Record of Survey will require a boundary survey to mark property lines on the ground or show them on a map.
I have an Assessor’s Parcel Map. Doesn’t that show my property line?
An Assessor’s Parcel Map (AP Map) is a useful tool but it is not a legal property map. Lines shown on AP Maps are created by the Assessor’s Office for tax purposes. They may be similar to record boundary lines but cannot be used to locate property lines.
My lot is shown on a geographical information systems (GIS) website. Can that be used to show my property lines?
Most geographical information systems (GIS) applications use digitized Assessor’s Parcel Map (AP Map) lines (see previous question) and are an approximation of boundary lines. GIS is an invaluable resource but cannot be used for true boundary location.
Once the survey is completed, how will I know where my property line is?
After a boundary survey is performed, your Land Surveyor will flag up existing monuments that have been found or set new durable monuments. Monuments are typically iron pipes driven in the ground with plugs stamped with their license number. Boundary surveys may require a Record of Survey map be filed with the County which will show both the found and new monuments.
If a boundary retracement is performed, existing monuments will be flagged to make them more visible. Missing corners will not be set and no Record of Survey will be filed.
What is a topographic map and why would I need one?
A topographic map, commonly referred to as a "topo," shows relative elevations on a site and locates existing site features such as foundations, fences, significant trees, sidewalks, driveways, etc. A topo is used as the base mapping for architectural, civil engineering and landscape design work. Topos are used by civil engineer to design the site grading (including the building pad elevation), and to prepare an estimate of how much fill soil, if any, will need to be brought to the site to meet City or County regulations.
Are there any County fees associated with a boundary a survey?
Survey fees will vary based on many factors such as the size of the site, whether it’s been previously surveyed and whether the found lot monuments agree with those previous surveys. County fees, if required, vary depending on the type of survey being performed and may range from $17.00 to $694.00 or more. Generally speaking, the most effective way to reduce the survey fees for parcels in a subdivision is to work together with your adjoining neighbors. There are no County fees for topographic surveys.
My architect requested the building setback lines. What are building setbacks?
Building setbacks are requirement determined by the City or County that dictate how close a new building or structure can be placed to a boundary line, waterway, well or other feature. Setback distances vary between County and City and even neighborhood. Locating a setback will most often require a boundary retracement or boundary survey.
I just need the corners of my foundation marked, how do I do that?
If your building is close to a setback to the property line you will need a boundary retracement or boundary survey to determine the location of the foundation.
What if my question isn’t answered here?
Email additional questions to the Sonoma County Chapter of the California Land Surveyors Association (CLSA) Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org but please note, they will not be accepting requests for proposals. You may also visit them at www.sonomacountyclsa.com.
Loss of Contractor
What to do if my contractor walks off the job?
My contractor has taken deposits but has not started work. What can I do?
Contact the Resiliency Permit Center right away via email at Rebuild@sonoma-county.org, phone (707) 565-1788, or come in for a visit at 448 Fiscal Drive, Santa Rosa ( view business hours). We’ll determine whether an application has been filed, whether the permit is issued and if construction has begun. Alternatively, check your project status anytime using Permits Online.
My house is under construction and the contractor has left the job with no contact information. How do I keep the project moving?
Contact the Resiliency Permit Center and we can determine the status of the project or stage of construction. Alternatively check your project status anytime using Permits Online.
To keep the project moving, resolve any outstanding issues with your existing contractor or hire a new contractor to finish your home. If electing to hire a new contractor, please fill out our Building Permit Application – Revised Information (CSS-020) (PDF) form to recognize the new contractor. The County will continue to conduct inspections as requested by the new contractor.
My house is finished but I can’t get a hold of my contractor. I understand the company has left town and they’re not answering my calls. How do I know if there’s anything left to do?
Contact the Resiliency Permit Center. We can determine the status of the project and advise on the next steps. Alternatively check your project status anytime using Permits Online.
My contractor has left me with an unfinished project. To whom do I complain about his treatment?
There are two organizations who can help:
Where can I find a contractor that I can trust to finish the job?
There are local resources to help you. Check with your neighbors about the firm they used and what they liked about them. Contact the North Coast Builders Exchange, the trade group that represents licensed local builders. They have been a trusted source and leader in the rebuild process.
Is a Building Permit required to repair damage to a structure?
Yes. A Permit is required for repairs and construction pursuant to State Code (2016 California Residential Code, Section R105.1 and Sonoma County Code 7-13). The review of repair permit applications will be streamlined. For more information, visit Sonoma County Code 7-13
What documents are needed for a Building Permit?
Will the County require evidence of a legal lot prior to issuance of a new building permit?
Yes, the County will require evidence of a legal lot prior to the issuance of a new building permit.
Where do I go to get my rebuild permits?
Permit Sonoma is providing an expedited permitting approach to anyone who has lost or damaged property in the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fire or 2019 Kincade Fire, via the offices listed:
- Residential Within the Fire Burn Zones: If you are rebuilding a residential property within the fire burn zones, expedited permitting assistance is provided through the Resiliency Permit Center located in the former Permit Sonoma Hearing Room at 2550 Ventura Avenue in Santa Rosa.
- Outside Fire Burn Zones: If your loss or damage occurred within the fire burn zones, but you are rebuilding or remodeling outside the fire burn zones, expedited permitting assistance is provided at the main Permit Sonoma Permit Center located at 2550 Ventura Avenue in Santa Rosa.
- Non-Residential: If you are rebuilding a non-residential structure, expedited permitting assistance is provided at the main Permit Sonoma Permit Center located at 2550 Ventura Avenue in Santa Rosa.
If I had an issued permit on a parcel that was burned down, what happens with that permit and fees?
In most cases, we will close the permit and issue a new one. The fees for the new permit will be prorated based on what milestone the project reached prior to the fire.
Is a Demolition Permit required for removal of a building or portions of a building that were damaged or destroyed by a fire?
No. Permit Sonoma is not issuing a demolition permit for the removal of buildings that were damaged or destroyed by a fire. Your debris removal process will be administered by Department of Health Services Environmental Health. More Information
Do I need a Grading Permit to rebuild?
The amount of grading allowed without the need for a separate grading permit has been increased to 100 cubic yards as long as the grading work is not designated Engineered Grading and the grading work is approved as part of a building permit. Grading and drainage standards must still be satisfied under the building permit.
Can I obtain a building permit on a parcel that has a red or yellow Rapid Evaluation Safety Assessment (RESA) tag?
Generally, the answer is no. If you are rebuilding in the same footprint as the burned structure(s), the answer is no. You cannot obtain a permit until after the site is cleaned. However, if you are building in a different location on the parcel that does not have fire damage, the answer may be yes. If you have site specific exceptions to discuss, please contact Permit Sonoma.
How long do I have to rebuild my permanent residence?
There is no time limit on when you have to start rebuilding your home provided that your property is zoned residential or agricultural and the number of homes on your property is consistent with zoning. If your home was considered legal non-conforming, you may want to talk with a Permit Sonoma Planner. Building and grading permits issued by Permit Sonoma expire in three years from the date of permit issuance.
We have a greenhouse that was built by previous owner without permits. Do we need a permit to rebuild this greenhouse?
Yes, a building permit is generally required. However, a building permit may not be required if the greenhouse is a prefabricated structure of less than 500 square feet and meets other criteria. See BPC-005 When is a Building Permit Not Required? for more information.
The size limitation for greenhouses in the RR (Rural Residential), AR (Agriculture and Residential), and RRD (Resource and Rural Development) zones is 800 square feet. In agricultural zones (LIA, LEA, DA) the size limitation is 2,500 square feet. Please visit the Zoning Desk at Permit Sonoma or call to speak to a Planner for more information.
If I had an Agricultural Exempt structure that burned down in the fire, do I need a new permit to rebuild it?
Yes, you will need to submit a new Agricultural Building Permit Exemption application.
What are the requirements for building fences as part of my rebuild?
Step 1: Determine whether or not there are height limits for your fence based on zoning regulations for your property. A Use Permit is required when exceeding height limits. Examples include, but aren’t limited to use permits, design review, and/or coastal permits. In general, fences over than (3) three feet in height within the front yard setback, or over six (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 the 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 these determinations.
Step 2: Determine whether or not you need a building permit. No building permits are required for the following fences:
- Open fences, such as wood lattice or wire mesh that are 10 feet or less in height
- Solid fences, such as wood, concrete, or masonry that are less than 6 feet in height
- Solid fences, such as wood, concrete, or masonry that are less than 6 feet in height that are topped with up to 4 feet of open fence as measured form the lowest grade to the top of the fence
Step 3. Determine if the fence is in the Right of way. If in a public right of way then an encroachment permit is required and you need to contact Engineering.
Planning: Zoning and Design Review
Are there additional requirements for rebuilding in a Geologic Hazard Zone?
All rebuilds will require a soils report. A soils report is a geotechnical report that studies the soil in order to design the proper foundation for the building site.
An additional geologic report known as a fault study and the accompanying setback requirement are not required for the purposes of rebuilding single-family homes lost to major wildfires. A fault study is a geotechnical report that attempts to locate an earthquake fault. The fault study and setback requirement are intended to prevent a structure from being constructed too close to an active earthquake fault.
Is the new building required to meet all zoning requirements standards, including setbacks?
Residential Buildings: A residential building that was legally constructed may be rebuilt on its original foundation footprint, even if it does not meet current setback requirements. If the residential building is rebuilt in another location on the property, it must meet current setback requirements and all other development standards.
Commercial and Industrial Buildings: A commercial or industrial building that was legally constructed may also be reconstructed on the original foundation footprint, even if it does not meet current setback requirements, as long as the fire damage does not exceed 50% of the building's replacement value.
Can I reestablish a legal nonconforming commercial use that was located on a residentially zoned property?
A legally established commercial use may be reestablished on a residentially zoned parcel as long as the fire damage does not exceed 50% of the building's replacement value. Otherwise, the new use on the property will have to comply with the current residential zoning.
Does my rebuild or redesign require a Design Review approval?
Design review is required on sites in the Scenic Resource (SR) and Local Guidelines (LG) combining zones. Permit Sonoma may waive the design review requirement in the burn areas if the home is located in a Scenic Landscape Unit and the Residential Rebuild Design Standards are met. If design review is otherwise required, Permit Sonoma will expedite this review to minimize delays in building permit processing.
Do I need a homeowner's association (HOA) Architectural Review Committee stamp on my rebuild plans?
Homeowners are encouraged to coordinate any necessary reviews with your HOA, when applicable. However, the County does not enforce HOA Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). We approve permits based on whether or not they meet the building code. We are not in the position to give legal advice on CC&Rs.
What do I do if my bridge was burned in the fire?
- Determine whether the bridge needs to be repaired or replaced.
- Visit or contact Permit Sonoma.
- Submit permit application. The Design Criteria for Bridges technical bulletin provides additional details on the building requirements.
What type of contractor can perform repairs on private bridges?
Only Class A Engineering contractors can perform repairs on private bridges. Neither Class B General Contractors nor owner/builders can perform these repairs. For more information, visit Contractor license classifications.
I am a private bridge owner. Can I simply rebuild on undamaged foundations or are there new requirements that I’d need to meet?
The bridge abutments need to be evaluated and certified by a licensed civil or structural engineer. The bridge must meet required load carrying capacity. Additional requirements may apply to bridge repairs and replacements. Please see Design Criteria for Bridges technical bulletin for more information.
How is the County determining the square footage of structures that were on my property prior to the fire?
The square footage will be determined from information on Permit records; Assessor records; Records provided by Owner; and Documents providing dimensions and layout.
How do I get copies of my building plans and/or parcel records?
Building plans and parcel records may be stored at Permit Sonoma on at least three types of media: Paper files, microfiche files, and scanned computer images. Clients can view their paper files, microfiche files, or scanned image plans and print letter size (8.5” x 11”) copies at the Permit Sonoma office. If you want to get full size prints, Digital Prints Imaging (DPI) can print them for you. To order these prints:
- Contact a bonded copy service and contract with them your copy needs.
- Notify Permit Sonoma Records staff which documents are being copied and with which service you have contracted.
- When the copy service has completed their service to you, they will contact you for document receipt.
Where can I get my plans if Permit Sonoma's Records Counter doesn’t have them? (Example: If the house was built before Permit Sonoma started keeping records.)
You might be able to obtain your building plans from the original developer or design professionals. You may need to have plans redrawn.
Where can I find a copy of the original soil testing that was completed for the original structure?
If a soils report was originally submitted to Permit Sonoma with a permit application, then you can contact Permit Sonoma's Records staff to obtain a copy.
Can I live in a trailer or RV on my property while rebuilding a home?
Yes, you can live in a trailer or RV on your residential or agricultural parcel while rebuilding your home as long as you have obtained a temporary permit from Permit Sonoma. Once the application is submitted, a permit will be issued if all basic conditions can be met:
- An electrical permit for any necessary hookups;
- Wastewater disposal approved by Environmental Health;
- The site is not at risk for landslides or debris flow;
- The placement of the temporary trailer or RV does not preclude rebuilding
The Temporary Permit may be revoked if the terms and conditions of the permit have been violated. Otherwise, the permit will expire once final inspection of your new home is complete.
When can a travel trailer be placed on a property that has a red or yellow tag?
Temporary occupancy of a mobile home, travel trailer, or RV on sites that have a red or yellow tag are currently allowed as long as the vehicle is not placed in the ash footprint and does not obstruct access to the site for clean-up. A temporary occupancy permit is required.
How long can I live in the RV on my burnt out property?
2 years, with one-year extensions possible if rebuild is in process.
How Many RVs can I have on my property?
You can have one (1) RV on residential properties and two (2) RVs on agricultural properties, but not more than can be served by the existing septic capacity.
Can I have a Tiny Home?
A tiny home may be allowed for use as temporary housing if it meets California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regulations and is registered through DMV as a travel trailer or it is approved through the California Department of Housing & Communities Development (HCD) as a manufactured or factory built home. It may be allowed as permanent housing if it is approved through HCD as a manufactured or factory built home and meets current applicable local building codes.
Can Manufactured homes be used for temporary housing?
On a burned site, manufactured units are allowed for use as temporary housing with a Temporary Emergency Housing permit. Permanent foundations for temporary housing are not allowed. In burn areas, a temporary Emergency Housing unit can be located in the setbacks, but shall avoid septic and leach field areas and other site constraints.
If you want the manufactured home to remain permanently either within or outside the burn areas, you must apply for a building permit following the standard application process, not a temporary occupancy permit. This would require a permanent foundation. Manufactured homes can be approved as a primary unit or an Accessory Dwelling Unit.
For Accessory Dwelling Units, there are size limitations and standards that must be met. A permanent Accessory Dwelling Unit must meet all required setbacks and must meet one of the following requirements: expand the septic system, agree to a bedroom swap with the main unit, or connect to sewer.
Vacation Rentals and Hosted Rentals
Can I get a new vacation rental or hosted rental permit?
The County of Sonoma is accepting hosted rental applications in all unincorporated Sonoma County. A ban on new vacation rentals is currently in effect in all areas of unincorporated Sonoma County that were impacted by the major wildfires. The ban is in effect until at least December 31, 2021 and allows communities to rebuild as residential communities before opening them up for vacation rentals. Hosted rentals are still allowed within these areas.
A vacation rental is defined as the rental of a private residence for periods of 30 days or less. Hosted rentals are the rental of a single room or sleeping area within a single-family dwelling, where the property owner remains in residence. Both vacation rentals and hosted rentals are subject to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). Houses or rooms rented for more than 30 days are not subject to the tax. Properties located in the Coastal Zone (e.g., The Sea Ranch, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Duncan Mills, etc.) are exempt from the moratorium, but are required to be registered with the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) Program.
Are there any changes to existing vacation rental permits?
No. The ordinance does not affect existing vacation rental and hosted rental permits that have been approved and issued.
Well, Septic, Sewer
Find out more Rebuilding information related to water wells, septic systems, and sewers in areas affected by the Sonoma Complex Fire and Kincade Fire.
If my water well is damaged and I need to construct a new one, do setbacks apply for the new water well?
If my home is on a private well, do I need to have the well tested?
Property owners are encouraged to have their private water wells tested to ensure they have safe potable water. However, well testing is not a requirement to re-occupy a property. More Well Water Quality Information
Can I reuse my existing septic system?
In order to reuse an existing septic system you must have it evaluated by a qualified professional to determine if it meets minimum septic system requirements and can adequately support intended uses. Please see the Septic System Evaluations for Rebuilding and Temporary Housing for further information.
Can I connect my RV to an existing septic system?
Will the County allow a second septic system be installed on a parcel for a RV/mobile home/travel trailer placed on the site to house a fire victim? It may not be possible to tie the unit to the existing septic system.
Any proposed septic systems must meet County standards which require suitable land and soil conditions. Installing a permanent septic system for a temporary situation is not advisable.
I want to put in a temporary travel trailer, but the proposed location is not near the waste line leading from my house to the septic system. Can I run my waste disposal pipe above ground to get it over to the septic line?
No, it needs to be below ground and installed in compliance with California Plumbing Code standards.
If my septic system is damaged and I need to construct a new one, do setbacks apply for the new septic system?
If my septic system was damaged/destroyed and doesn't meet current standard requirements, can I repair or replace it in the same location?
Repair: Yes, you can repair it in the same location.
Replace: For replacements, a system must meet current standard requirements when replaced.
Do I need a permit to repair or replace my fire damaged septic system?
Replace: You will need a permit to replace your septic system.
Repair: For repairs, you may or may not need a permit depending on the type of repair. Please see Permitting Guidelines for Fire Damaged Septic Systems to find out which repairs require permits and which do not.
If my septic system is closer than code allows to a creek/stream, and it was damaged in the fire, can I repair/replace it in the same location?
Replace: For septic system replacements, No.
Repair: For septic system repairs, Yes.
If I need to replace my septic system and I don't have a reserve area, can I do it?
The replacement septic system would need to meet current standards. We recommend you discuss your options with a qualified consultant, such as a civil engineer.
Can I enlarge my house during the rebuild without upgrading my septic system?
Yes, if the existing septic system meets current standards for the intended uses. However, increases in wastewater flow such as new bedrooms would typically require the septic system to be upgraded. Additions to previously existing building footprints should not impact or encroach onto the existing septic system including tank locations and reserve replacement areas.
What are my options if any piece of my septic system is on a neighboring parcel?
There are three options:
- Voluntary mergers are strongly encouraged.
However, when a voluntary merger is not possible, other options include:
- A lot line adjustment.
- An easement.
Existing conditions prior to the fire would apply. No new requirements would be imposed to reconnect to existing septic systems in these cases.
Will you allow private onsite systems to hook up to sewer when rebuilding?
Yes, as long as there is sewer available.
If my property has an existing functioning onsite septic system, will I be required to connect to sewer?
Generally, no. Sewer connections will only be required for rebuilds if the property is located within a sewer district boundary and the property has an existing sewer lateral stubbed to the property. Most properties in the county are not within sewer district boundaries and would have to ensure the onsite septic system is properly functioning and has sufficient capacity for the proposed uses.