Beverly Hills regulates interior and exterior construction through building permits. The process ensures that work will comply with state and local building codes. But permits also protect multifamily occupants from construction conditions that could compromise public safety and to some extent shield tenants from impacts that negatively affect habitability. However too much work occurs without the required permits. We should know which type of construction requires a permit and what to do if the work is not properly permitted.
Why Permits Are Important
“In the State of California building is a privilege, not a right,” says the city in a FAQ about the permit process. “Much in the same way you need a driver’s license to drive a motor vehicle, you need a building permit to construct.” Kitchen and bathroom remodels require a building permit. Interior work that affects electrical and plumbing systems requires those respective permits. Even laminate flooring requires a permit because City of Beverly Hills want to be sure that new flooring meets a minimum standard for sound insulation.
When work occurs without a permit, the city can’t be sure work meets state and local standards. But too often we see multifamily landlords undertake construction without a permit. During the past year on Reeves alone, for example, we reported several instances of unpermitted kitchen and bathroom remodeling; two instances of interior demolition; unpermitted hazardous materials abatement; roofing repairs; and window replacement. Each needed a permit. Eventually the permits were obtained.
Construction that proceeds without a permit is more likely to violate the city’s prohibition on construction after hours, on weekends and on holidays. And if no permit is pulled the city cannot ensure that multifamily occupants are provided a means and method plan (if required) to disclose construction impacts and to identify appropriate mitigations.
We encourage multifamily residents to check on the existence of a permit whenever nearby construction seems to warrant one. And if no permit exists then please contact the city and file a complaint.
When is a Permit Required?
Permit requirements are explained in section 9–1–10 of Title 9 of the Municipal Code (Building and Property Health and Safety Regulations). The regulations are a bit complex so we will boil it down.
Interior construction and improvements that require a permit:
- Cutting away of any wall or partition or portion of any wall or partition;
- Structural changes such as the removal or cutting of a beam or load bearing support;
- Alteration to any means egress (i.e., doorways) and window replacement or closure;
- Kitchen and bathroom tiling;
- Plumbing such as the removal and replacement of any concealed trap, drainpipe, waste or vent pipe;
- Electric wiring (new or replaced);
- Installation of laminate flooring; and,
- Furnace, water heater and HVAC installation or replacement.
A permit is NOT required for painting, wallpaper, or other interior finishes including carpeting. Nor is a permit required for simply changing a faucet or unclogging a kitchen or bathroom drain. Installation of portable heaters or window air conditioners does not require a permit nor does the replacement of electrical outlets (the wall box). Pest control does not require a permit.
Exterior construction and improvements that require a permit:
- Roofing and/or the replacement of rain gutters;
- Removal and reinstallation of multifamily walkways;
- Window replacement;
- Major repairs to structural elements (such as a balcony or stairway);
- Front yard fencing of any height (elsewhere fences taller than 6 feet); and,
- Retaining walls at the front property line if they are taller than 3 feet (elsewhere 4 feet or more).
A permit is NOT required for the cleaning of rain gutters, exterior painting or power-washing, repairs to handrails and the like or any kind of landscaping that does not involve grading.
How to Spot No-Permit Construction ?
Noise is the first sign of unpermitted construction. No construction for which a permit is required should occur between 6 pm and 8 am (unless specifically permitted for after-hours construction). When such construction occurs on a weekend or holiday it is surely being done without a permit.
The presence of a work crew and tools is another sign. When a tile saw or chop saw makes an appearance, or when one or more licensed contractors spends time on the premises, then the work is also likely to require a permit. Contractors branded for mold or hazardous materials abatement is another red flag. More obviously, scaffolding erected on the premises or the presence of bulk building material suggests that a permit is necessary.
Sometimes it means playing detective. Is there the presence of construction debris on the premises or in the trash cans? (Construction debris is not allowed in alley trash.) Are there new appliances being installed? Any vacant unit should get a second look for remodeling that may be happening without the necessary permits.
Search for a Permit
Suspicious that construction work may not be permitted? Visit the online property info database to check. It’s easy. We report some instance of unpermitted multifamily construction every week.
There are two ways to check for a permit. The first is to call the code enforcement division at (310) 285–1119 (on weekdays). Provide the address to the secretary and they can say whether or not a permit is on file. The call-in line is open for business weekdays and during office hours only.
The second method is to search online for a permit. Visit the online property info database which is available 24–7. Enter the street address in the search bar (for example ‘156 S Reeves’). From the links choose the top link which is usually marked ‘land.’
Sometimes the address is specific to a unit. For example 9417 Charleville is a unit at the property known to the city as 156 Reeves. In such a case the search with return a link marked as ‘occupancy.’
Either search again using the property’s master address OR click on the occupancy link and navigate to the vertical tab on the left marked ‘address browser.’ Expand it and choose the top-level entry which, in this case, is 156 Reeves.
Once in the property record scroll down to the ‘activities/permits’ section on the right. The permit would appear there. This could be a building permit or a permit for some other purpose like electrical, plumbing, seismic retrofit, flooring, or fencing.
If there is a recent permit then click on the line entry to examine the permit details. The permit details should indicate the purpose of the work and a reasonable value for the job. Because the cost for a permit is based on valuation, there is some incentive for the landlord to under-value the job!
If there is no relevant permit there then it is likely there is no permit for the work and the next step is to file a complaint.
File a Complaint
There are two ways to file a complaint: by phone or using the city’s online Ask Bev platform. To file a complaint by phone dial (310) 285–1119 (weekdays) and provide the property address and details. Within a couple of days follow up with code enforcement (aka the community preservation division) to get the case number and the name of the assigned code inspection officer. That information is important for later follow-up.
Alternatively, file a complaint online using the city’s Ask Bev communication platform. We prefer this option despite the clunky interface because it keeps track of our complaints. Existing users navigate to Ask Bev and then log in using the link at the upper right. (New users should create an account and then log in at Ask Bev.)
Once logged-in the user clicks on ‘submit request’ and chooses the appropriate topic tab. For our purposes it is Code Enforcement > Building Code Violations.
Follow-up is Key!
Consider this President’s Day experience earlier this year. A rented panel truck pulls up to the curb at 9 am. Out comes a couple of guys with a contractor’s saw and a stack of plywood. Trouble is brewing on the holiday! Next thing is banging as the guys rip-out drywall downstairs. But an online check for a permit turns up no permit at the address.
There is nobody to call at City Hall so we ring BHPD’s non-emergency number: (310) 550–4951. A cop comes out and informs the contractor it is a holiday. Peace and quiet returns…but it was not meant to last. After a short time the demolition resumes. Another call to BHPD brings back the same cop. Quiet again returns…for two or three hours. Call #3 to BHPD brings two cops back and finally the work stops for good.
The next day we contacted code enforcement and an officer posted a stop-work order. Subsequently the landlord had to prepare a means & method plan (which is required any time construction requires a permit and conditions will affect habitability for longer than one day). From the plan we learned what the work is about, what hours the contractor can work, how long the job will last, and identified landlord-identified mitigations for construction impacts that we could use to hold the landlord to account if the job goes wrong.
Moral of the Story
The moral of this story: an educated tenant is an empowered tenant. Had we not known that construction is prohibited on President’s Day we might have lived with the impacts of interior demolition on a holiday. Had we not known we could search a permit online, then we might have accepted the contractor’s assertion that he had a permit. Had we not known to call the police on a weekend or holiday, we would have thought we had little recourse until the next weekday. (Holiday calls to code enforcement go to voicemail.)
Tenant awareness about construction permits and construction impacts is crucial! Be sure to also read our related explainer: Means and Method Plan: What You Need to Know.