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The original item was published from 6/11/2021 1:17:08 PM to 7/11/2021 12:00:00 AM.

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Posted on: June 11, 2021

[ARCHIVED] Construction Work & Building Permit Requirements

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The Town of Corte Madera is experiencing a significant increase in incidents involving construction work without Town issued building permits. This has caused homeowners and contractors significant delays in their intended construction projects and has also resulted in enhanced fees and penalties. The Town wants to avoid these sorts of interactions, and would like to remind our residents that if you are planning any type of construction work, to please contact the Town’s Building Department to inquire whether or not a permit is required for your intended work. Obtaining proper guidance from the Building Department prior to the commencement of construction will ensure there will be no unnecessary delays or enhanced fees stemming from a Stop Work Order or other Code Enforcement actions. The Town of Corte Madera’s Building Department is available Monday thru Friday 8:30 AM - 4:30PM to answer any permit related questions and serve as a resource to our community. The Building Department can be reached by phone at 415-927-5062, or, by email at

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. These regulations ensure that a structure is both safe, but has a sanitary design for plumbing and air quality, is safe from electrical hazards, and is properly designed to resist extremes of weather and moderate earthquake. Recent changes in the code also address energy conservation and environmental concerns.

In general, improvements, alterations, and many repairs require permits. Exemption from permitting is not an exemption from the requirement to construct the work in compliance with applicable codes. Always check with your Building, Planning, Fire, Environmental Health (lead paint, asbestos, etc.), and Public Works Departments for their specific requirements.

Exemptions from permitting may be allowed for certain work, such as:

  • fences up to 7 feet high (The Town’s zoning ordinance allows for a maximum of a 6-foot-tall fence along side and rear property boundaries, however, an additional 1 foot of structure may be added with a documented agreement between neighbors on file with the Town.)
  • minor electrical and plumbing repairs without replacing existing wiring or piping
  • painting, wall papering, tiling, carpeting, 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 (maximum height is 10 feet and a minimum 5 foot rear yard and 5 foot side yard setback is required)
  • retaining walls 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, vehicle way, etc.). Contact the Planning Department to discuss setbacks for any retaining wall that is taller than 3 feet.

It can be very tempting to ignore the permit process, especially if the work is inside the home where it is not easily observed. While homeowners might get by with this, it is equally likely that such short-cuts will cost homeowners considerable time and money to legalize the work later. If it comes to light that a property owner has done work without the necessary permits, then they could be required to apply for a permit after the fact, at a greatly increased cost. Additionally, to correct these conditions, property owners might have to remove finishes in order for the work to be inspected. If the work is not code complaint, and unsafe, then property owners may need to perform alterations or remove certain elements.

Good, quality construction and a safe environment enhance our homes and community. Your home or business is an investment. If your construction project does not comply with the codes adopted by the State and local community, the value of your investment could be reduced. Your homeowner's insurance coverage can also be affected. For example, should you have a flood or fire due to poor plumbing or electrical work, your insurance company has a case for denying coverage if the work was done without a permit.

When a property is sold, the owner is required to disclose any improvements or repairs made and whether permits and inspections were obtained. In addition, for residential properties, the Town provides a copy of the permit history for the home to both buyer and seller. Many financial institutions will not finance a purchase without proof of permits for alterations or additions, and a final inspection. If you decide to sell a home or building that has had modifications made without a permit, you may be forced to remove the addition, leave it unoccupied or perform costly code upgrades. Alternatively, the value of your home could be diminished by the presence of the illegal or unsafe alteration or addition.

Obtaining a permit allows the code official to help reduce potential hazards of unsafe construction and to provide for the public’s health, safety and welfare. By following code guidelines, your completed project will meet minimum standards of safety and will be less likely to cause injury to you, your family, and your friends or future owners, and avoid exposure to future litigation for construction related incidents. Mandatory inspections by the Town building inspector complement the contractor’s experience and act as a system of checks and balances resulting in a safer project.

Learn About the Building Standards Code
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