When do You Need a Permit? (Part 3) Plan Approval

As part of a multi-part series about the most common types of permits this entry addresses the 6 considerations of plan approvals.

Click here to read the first part where I explain the 6 considerations in detail.

Click here to read the second part where I review zoning applications.

In the news on March 21, 2017 an unfortunate business owner out of Minocqua Minnesota finds himself facing a fine of $500 for failing to file for plan approval with the local building department.  According to the article, the application would have cost the man $50, but now he faces a fine ten times that sum.  The Man claimed he failed to file out of ignorance, but the town officials don’t appear sympathetic.

Plan approvals are required any time you build or modify a structure.

In some jurisdictions the code may differentiate between renovations and new construction.  These sections of the code may be referred to as Rehabilitation Codes.  It’s important to check for a Rehab Code because lesser classifications of work may exclude you from the need to file for plan approvals.  Check with a local Architect if you are unsure.


Plan Approvals are reviews of the safety of the specific building you intend to build.

This review focuses on the safety of both internal occupants and the general public.  Plan approvals evaluate things like suitability of the proposed structural design, compliance with accessibility requirements, adequacy of egress components, sufficiency of fire suppression systems, and compliance with fire alarm requirements.


Jurisdictional authority for plan approvals is with the Building Department. The Building Department is made up of full time and part time employees of the City or Town. Sometimes the Fire Marshall is also involved in plan reviews.

What is interesting to note is that although the Building Department has jurisdiction over plan approvals, they have little say in the requirements.  Code regulations are generated by the International Code Council which is a nationwide non-profit group made up of several groups of code officials who come together to generate a comprehensive national code model.

Local Building Departments adopt specific versions of the code and may make revisions to specific sections.  These revisions and the adoption of the code are incorporated in each jurisdiction by local law.


The building Inspector and the Fire Marshall not only perform the plan reviews, they are also tasked with ensuring compliance. As such, it is not uncommon for these gentlemen to also visit the job site during construction to inspect the work.

During plan approval the plan examiners may withhold approval of a set of plans if your drawings fail to comply with any life safety or minimum structural requirements of the code.

This could mean revising the drawings and resubmitting until the plan examiners are satisfied that your project meets the code.

4.Filing Process

The filing process for plan reviews is generally quite simple. You will need a full set of construction documents and typically there are some simple forms that are required. This application is made immediately following the completion of the Detailed Design Phase.

When you submit your drawings for approval ensure that you allow sufficient time for the plan review.  This process can take several weeks.  It is also best practice to file with the same set of drawings you expect to use for construction.  Some Architects like to label their drawings “Permit Set”.  They then make revisions to the permit set and reissue a construction set after the comments from the building department are corrected.  The problem with this approach is that you loose the ability to trace the revisions made to the drawings.  It’s better to issue a construction set and mark the set as revised each time a change is made.  This ensures that when the Building Inspector arrives at the jobsite to inspect the work, the set the GC is working from is labeled the same as the set that was approved.

5.Responsible Party

Since the plan approval essentially is confirmation of the Architect’s design complying with the building codes, the Architect is the best person to file for plan approval.

6. Fees

The building department may charge a small fee to perform a plan review, but there should be no additional fees paid to the Architect. The Architect’s fee for developing the drawings should be inclusive of the plan approval. Even if the Building Inspector finds errors that need to be corrected, the Architect should not require any additional fee to be paid.


So now you should better understand plan approvals.  If you are taking on a big project, this is part 1 of a two part process.  Next week we will discuss part 2 of this process which is known as filing for work permits.  We will also read the story of a couple that did not need to file for plan approvals, but should have filed for work permits.

So have you ever filed for plan approval?  If so, were you approved?  Were you denied?  Tell me your stories.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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