Overcoming Building Permit Dilemmas

Obtaining a building permit in a timely fashion has become one of the great challenges in the home building industry; New Jersey surely is a contender for one of the most regulated states in the country. I have built a dozen homes per year for the past 20 years in New Jersey and a recent experience demonstrates how bad it can get when anti-development pressure pervades your area.

On May 25, 2005, my company submitted an application for a building permit that included a driveway permit request, a detailed lot grading plan and a full set of construction drawings. New Jersey state law requires that a building permit application be acted upon within 20 business days. However, this town will not process the construction drawing until the town engineer, zoning officer, landscape architect and the board of health all approve the submitted information.

On Aug. 9, after 75 days of responding to the engineer's numerous requests, we received a memo from the building department with a list of 16 additional items it required prior to issuing a permit. These items included installation instructions for our heating and cooling system as well as for the cultured stone and stucco. They also requested Building Officials and Code Administrators research for our foundation walls, even though they acknowledged that BOCA code was no longer used in New Jersey.

Next, they asked us for a list of all the faucets and diverter valves and the manufacturers' installation instructions. Finally, they asked for three separate architectural details - which were already included on the blueprints - to be inserted in the plans.

On Aug. 12, two of my intelligent, professional employees made a special trip to the town hall to hand deliver a neatly categorized three-ring binder. The building inspector's secretary told them emphatically: "No, the binder is an unacceptable submission. We want the papers submitted in a different format." So off they went and returned the next business day with the information in the requested format.

The following week, we received the second list of demands; live load calculations for category "C" Coastal Conditions (our site is 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean). Our architect laughed when we requested the live load calculations, saying: "You know that is the Coastal Category, right? And your house is in the middle of New Jersey!" But he came through anyway.

On Aug. 25, three months after our submission, we were granted a partial building permit. A full release of the permit was withheld until we dug for the foundation and submitted a sealed engineer's report showing that our first-floor grade matched our proposed lot development grade. We submitted this report last week and are waiting to hear from the building department with bated breath because we were off by eight one-hundredths of an inch.

All of this back and forth, plus time lost in valuable prewinter construction, was intensified by an anxious client who called daily, hoping for news that we had the building permit.

To help prevent a similar experience for yourself, I urge you to get involved in your local National Association of Home Builders chapter and actively speak up and make your voice heard early and often against bureaucratic dawdling that will make housing more expensive and not add any value. Visit www.nahb.org for membership information.

Stay involved and resist the ever-tightening anti-development movement, which is so prevalent in the Northeast and may soon become more commonplace in your neighborhood.