5 Steps to Getting a Building Permit

April, 2009

Horror stories abound about getting a building permit — how it took so long or that there was always another hoop to jump through. The process doesn’t have to be so difficult. Nancy Kaya, owner of Kaya Permit Processors and an 18-year veteran of the business, offers these tips to homeowners and business owners on how to make the process easier.


“Make sure your plans are complete,” says Kaya. Those are her first words of advice and a common theme. Simple as it sounds, a surprising number of people don’t meet the requirements, she says. “Often, plans are drawn really poorly or the information that is required isn’t there. That’s like shooting yourself in the foot.” Ensuring that the application is complete allows the reviewer to make thorough comments at the start of the process, thus minimizing unforeseen problems and delays. “People ask,”Why didn’t they ask for that the first time around?” But if their application is missing a lot of things, that’s why it takes awhile.”


The City & County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting has resources online, including a checklist that clearly shows the requirements for residential and commercial building permit applications. Go to honoluludpp.org. The site also has a system to submit permit applications online and calculate fees, as well as an Internet version of the number counter on an office wall: It shows in real time what customer number is being served at the city’s building permit centers in Honolulu and Kapolei.


“If you are doing something that is a large-scale project, it’s best to hire an architect or a licensed engineer,” Kaya says. Sometimes, people draw their own plans on folder paper or graph paper, in pencil, not even using a straight edge, she says. “They think they’re going to submit those plans. And I say, ‘No, you’re not.’ Those plans will get rejected at the desk.” Something that might seem simple, such as a plan for a retaining wall, requires a stamp from a licensed engineer, she notes.


Small-business owners and homeowners often have a draftsperson draw their plans, rather than an architect, to save money, Kaya says. But sometimes the drawings are not thorough. Architects are the most knowledgeable about the building codes, which, she notes, can differ by county.


Homeowners often think they don’t have the time or the money for professional help, so they do the plans themselves. But a hastily prepared application is likely to generate a lot of comments from the permit reviewer, which means the application goes back to the owners. That cycle will go on as long as there are unanswered issues, Kaya warns. “That’s when things get held up. You’re losing time and, many times, you’re losing money.”

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