Building Department

San Jose City Hall
San Jose City Hall

Permitting regulates construction and property use to ensure safe, healthy, efficient, and accessible environments for human occupancy and habitation.  California Code of Regulations, Title 24, Building Standards Code require that no building or structure may be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has been issued.  In general, improvements, replacements, and repairs require permits. Exemptions from permitting are allowed for certain work, but vary for each jurisdiction.  The following, however, are typically exempted:

  • fence up to 7 feet high
  • minor electrical and plumbing repairs without replacing existing wiring or piping
  • painting, wall papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, countertops and similar finish work
  • movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions up to 5 feet 9 inches high without electrical
  • one-story detached building used for storage or a children’s playhouse with a floor area up to 120 square feet and without electricity, plumbing, or heating
  • retaining wall up to 4 feet high measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall and not supporting a surcharge (sloping ground, foundation, fence, etc.) or hazardous liquids.

In general, exemption from permitting is not an exemption from constructing the work in compliance with applicable codes.  Always check with your Building, Zoning, Fire, Environmental Health (lead paint, asbestos, etc.), and Public Works Departments for their specific requirements.


Only licensed contractors and property owners (Owner/Builder) may be issued building permits.  Many jurisdictions assess an additional business tax for contractors. Contractors must have the appropriate classification for the work, such as C36 for plumbing .  Contractors must have knowledge of their craft, be tested, fingerprinted, bonded, and have an FBI background check to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board . Owner/Builders assume full responsibility for the work and their workers’ safety and are assumed to have the same knowledge of codes and construction methods as licensed contractors.  The work may only be done on an Owner/Builder’s principal place of residence that they have occupied for 12 months or more prior to completion of the work.  Owner/Builders cannot sell more than two properties for which they were issued a building permit during any three-year period.  Owner/Builders must do the work by themselves or with immediate family, employees, or licensed subcontractors.  Employees are subject to income tax withholding, Social Security taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, disability insurance, and unemployment compensation (Know the Risks of Owner/Builder – From the Contractor’s State Licensing Board).


Several of California’s 29 codes regulate the design, construction, use and maintenance of buildings, including the Government Code and Public Resources Code.  The Health and Safety Code aggregates its building provisions from Divisions 12 and 13 into the Code of Regulations, which includes the following:

  • Title 8 regulates elevators, escalators, dumbwaiters, stairway chairlifts and other forms of conveyances and is enforced by the Department of Industrial Relations.
  • Title 19 regulates fire and panic safety, fire alarms, extinguishers, tents, awnings and more and is enforced by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
  • Title 21 regulates handicapped access to public buildings, excess flow gas shut off valves, construction of public schools and hospitals, and more and is enforced by the Division of the State Architect.
  • Title 25 codifies the State Housing Law, Employee Housing Act, Mobile Home Parts Act, Manufactured Housing Act, and more and is enforced by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

In addition to the Building Standards Commission, state agencies also amend the Building Standards Code, which are enforced both by them and Building Departments  (


The process which jurisdictions use for enforcing the Building Standards Code is Plan Check and Inspections. Plan Check reviews construction documents, including the design drawings, before a permit is issued to assure that the building and its environment systems and equipment (plumbing, electrical, mechanical) will comply with regulations for structural safety, energy conservation, green technology, and handicapped accessibility.  Jobsite inspections are periodically performed by jurisdictions to monitor phases of construction. The Health and Safety Code allows jurisdictions to adopt local technical amendments that are no less restrictive than regulations in the Building Standards Code.  These amendments are based on local climatic, geological and topographical conditions and are filed with the Building Standards Commission in Sacramento.  The Health and Safety Code also has administrative requirements for Building Departments, including the following:

  • must employ certified personnel;
  • must have continuing education;
  • must have a neutral appeals process;must not have excessive plan review backlogs.

The California Civil Code requires that Building Departments have an inspector who is a Certified Access Specialist.

Check the Links below and your local jurisdiction’s website for additional information.



  • Library

Building Standards Commission

State Contractors License Board