Permits for Homeowners

Remodeling or adding improvements to your home?
Home owners thinking about remodeling their home or adding other improvements, such as decks, spas or retaining walls, many times have a number of questions about building permits. This information is designed to give home owners basic knowledge of when construction permits and other approvals are required by the City of La Mesa.

Since each construction project is unique, we invite you to call the City's Building Division, 667.1176, for answers to your specific questions. You may also visit Building Division for additional information.

What are permits and why do I need one?
Permits are the way the City of La Mesa regulates construction. The safety of the occupants of buildings is the primary reason for having construction codes. The City has adopted several codes, among them the International Building and Uniform Mechanical and Plumbing and National Electrical codes. In addition, there are federal, state and local laws that govern construction, such as those covering energy conservation and disabled access.

Obtaining the permit is just the first step in the process. In this step, you may need to create plans to submit to the department, make a plot plan for your property showing the improvements, and show the type of construction you'll be using.

Once plans are approved, you're required to build the project to those plans. If any changes are made to the plans, they must be made with the city's approval. The second half of the process is the inspection of the work.

When do I need a construction permit? When don't I need a permit?
A construction permit is needed for all new construction. In many cases, a permit is needed for repair or replacement of existing fixtures, such as replacing windows. A plumbing, electrical or mechanical permit maybe needed for any addition or changes to a building's existing system; for example, moving or adding an electrical outlet requires a permit.

A construction permit is not needed for items such as wallpapering, painting or similar finish work; fences six feet high or lower and not enclosing a pool; platforms, decks and walks 30 inches high or less over grade or not over basement; and in several other cases. However, reviews may be required from other agencies; be sure to check before building.

For plumbing, mechanical and electrical work, replacement or repair of fixtures (such as changing water faucets or replacing switches) does not normally require a permit. Replacing a water heater or adding a permanently wired light fixture does, however, require a permit.

View Permit Exemptions
View Exempt Improvement Projects for Single Family Dwellings

How long does it take to get a permit?
Permit issuance periods vary. Some projects can be fully permitted over-the-counter, meaning a return trip won't be needed. Some projects, however, require that plans be left for additional review.

What if I don't get a permit?
If a permit, when needed, is not obtained before construction, you have violated city codes and regulations; you will be subject to citations and/or penalties. You'll be required to obtain permits for the work and it must pass inspection, or you'll have to return the structure or site to its original condition.

Construction codes were created for safety reasons. Work built without a permit can be unsafe, no matter how good it looks.

Who should obtain the permit?
Contractors licensed by the State of California or their agents may obtain permits. Homeowners may also obtain permits. The Contractors State License Board web site contains important information regarding the implications of an owner-builder.

Can I do the work myself or do I have to hire a contractor?
You can do the work yourself, but you must follow certain regulations. Among them:
  • Workers' Compensation: If you will be hiring anyone, you may have to purchase Workers' Compensation Insurance, which is available from a variety of agencies. If you won't be hiring anyone, we'll ask you to sign an ''Owner-Builder Statement'' to this effect. We can't issue you a permit without either insurance or the completed Owner-Builder Statement.
  • Build to the plans: Be sure to follow your approved plans, whether they are drawn by an architect or designer or are standard construction requirements given to you by the city. If you change the plans while building the structure, this will cause problems when the project is inspected. If you do decide to make changes, check with the city's plan review staff or your field inspector.

Who draws up the plans?
Plans for simple projects such as small single story houses, room additions and garages can usually be drawn by qualified individuals such as draftspersons. Other projects may require plans prepared and signed by a licensed architect or engineer.

What about a contractor?
The City recommends that you deal only with a contractor licensed by the State of California. Go to the Contractors State License Board web site for additional information, or call them at (800) 321-CSLB.

What about inspections?
It is your responsibility to call the City of La Mesa for inspections at specific times during construction. You may have your contractor make the call, but it is still your responsibility as the property owner to make sure the inspections are made. Inspections are made during certain points in the project, depending on the work that's being performed. For example, retaining walls require inspections of the footing, after block is laid and steel placed but before grouting, after backfill has been placed, and when all work is finished.

For legal purposes, a construction project is not complete until it has passed the final inspection.

How long is a permit good for?
A building permit shall expire if the construction work is not commenced or the first City progress inspection not received within one calendar year from the date of the permit, or no inspections received for a period of 6 months after the work is commenced, or if the work exceeds 3 calendar years from the issuance date of the permit.

Once a permit is expired, you may be required to begin the permit process from the beginning and pay all of the applicable fees.