Can I be my own General Contractor or Owner/Builder?
“Owner/builder” describes a situation in which the homeowner becomes the general contractor. As an owner/builder, you (not the person you hire) assume responsibility for the overall job. Your responsibilities may include such things as state and federal taxes, workers’ compensation insurance and other legal liabilities.
Owner-Builder Declarations , Owner-Builder Acknowledgement – These are the forms required by the State to be filled out in order to have permits issued to a property owner.
For more information on this, go to the CSLB website, http://www.cslb.ca.gov/.
What is an Owner-Builder?
This section defines what an owner-builder is and the laws surrounding the practice.
- An owner-builder is what the term indicates: a person owns the property and acts as their own general contractor on the job, and either does the work themselves or has employees (or subcontractors) working on the project.
- The work site must be their principal place of residence that they have occupied for 12 months prior to completion of the work.
- The homeowner cannot construct and then sell more than two structures during any three-year period.
LAWS AND REGULATIONS Business & Professions Code section 7044 has more information about owner-builders.
This section outilines the job responsibilities of a property owner when they decide to handle their own construction projects as an owner-builder.
When you sign a building permit application as an owner-builder, you assume full responsibility for all phases of your project and its integrity. You must pull all building permits. Your project must pass codes and building inspections.
The owner-/builder is responsible for ordering materials and making sure all suppliers are paid.
An owner-builder also is responsible for supervising, scheduling, and paying subcontractors. If you use anyone other than your immediate family or a licensed subcontractor for work, you may be considered an “employer.”
Employers must register with the state and federal governments and are obligated to participate in state and federal income tax withholding, federal Social Security taxes, workers' compensation insurance, disability insurance costs, and unemployment compensation contributions.
TIP: For more specific information about your obligations under federal law, contact the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040, and the U.S. Small Business Administration at (800) 359-1833. For more specific information about your obligations under state law, contact the Employment Development Department at (916) 653-0707, the Department of Industrial Relations at (415) 703-5070, and the Franchise Tax Board at (800) 852-5711.
This section presents some additional issues that should be taken into consideration before deciding to become an owner-builder.
Unless you are knowledgeable about construction, mistakes can be costly and take additional time to repair or correct.
Subcontractors and suppliers who are not paid on schedule may file mechanics liens against your property. Educate yourself about mechanics liens and how to prevent them.
If your workers are injured, or your subcontractors are not licensed or do not carry liability insurance or workers' compensation insurance and they are injured, you could be asked to pay for injuries and rehabilitation through your homeowner’s insurance policy or face lawsuits.
You should be cautious of unlicensed individuals claiming to be contractors who prey upon homeowners. They may promise to guide you through the owner-builder process for a consulting fee, but they are breaking the law.
As an owner-builder, you assume full responsibility for all phases of your project and its integrity.
Licensed contractors must demonstrate knowledge of their craft, be tested, fingerprinted, bonded, and undergo an FBI background check before they are licensed to work in California.
Illegal contractors can botch a job or leave with the down payment, leaving the owner-builder to deal with the consequences.
Can I Use My Garage as a Living Area?
No, it is illegal and unsafe to live in any garage. Living in a garage may be dangerous due to fire hazards and carbon monoxide poisoning from gas fired appliances (like a water heater or furnace). You may be able to get a permit to convert a garage into a living space, as an addition to your home, however, you will be required to comply with the city’s requirements for off-street parking, which includes the requirement to have a two-car enclosed garage. Contact the Planning Division for further assistance.
Do all Building Permits Need Inspections?
Yes. After your permit is issued, a series of inspection will be required. Depending on the scope of your project, inspections may be required for foundation, framing, plumbing, electrical and similar work. The City requires a final inspection on all building permits.
Do All Permits Need a "Final" Inspection?
Yes. All work completed under a building permit issued by the City of Whittier must pass a final inspection by the Building Inspector. Even though a contractor may have taken out a building permit for a property owner, it is ultimately the responsibility of the property owner to see that a final inspection is attained for each building permit. Failure to have a final inspection could result in withholding approval of any future permits.
Do I Need a Permit for Play Houses and/or Storage Sheds?
A building permit is not required for one story, detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds, play houses, and buildings of similar use, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet.
However the location of the structure; regardless of the size, should be reviewed by the Planning Division prior to placement.
Please contact the Building and Safety Division via phone at (562) 567-9320 for additional information or stop by our office at City Hall.
Do I Need Automatic Fire Sprinklers in my Home?
From the Whittier Municipal Code – Section 15.04.010 – Building Codes Section R313.1, the exception shall be revised to read as follows:
Exception: Notwithstanding any applicable provisions of this code, an automatic sprinkler system shall be provided in an existing building when an addition occurs and when one of the following conditions exists:
- When any addition, or accumulation of addition(s) within the immediate prior three-year period exceeds fifty percent (50%) of the existing building area prior to the contributing additions; or
- When any addition, or accumulation of addition(s) within the immediate prior three-year period exceeds 5,000
square feet (465 m2); or
- When an additional story is added above the second floor regardless of fire areas or allowable area; or
- An addition when the existing building is already provided with automatic sprinklers.
Do I Need Permits for Items Such as a Patio Cover, Patio Slab, Driveways, Block/Retaining Wall, Reroofs, Painting, Carpet Installations, etc.?
Patio Covers - A permit is required for a patio cover. Refer to the Patio Cover Standard Plan for additional Information.
Wood or Vinyl Fences - A permit is required for a Fence over 18” high. Refer to the Wood Fence Requirements Handout for additional Information.
Submit a plot plan showing the location of all proposed walls or fences. Refer to the Standard Plot Plan Form for additional information. Contact the Planning Division for information regarding restrictions and requirements for fences.
If the fence is to be located on a shared property line, please complete the Common Property Line Wall Agreement Form, and have the property owner(s) on the adjacent property fill out and sign the form.
If the fence is to be located entirely on your property, please complete the Fence or Wall on Owners Property Form.
Window Replacement - A permit is required for Window Replacement. Provide a floor plan or site plan with the window sizes, and locations, along with a brochure from the manufacturer, and photos of the exterior of the house to the Planning Division for approval prior to building permit issuance. Refer to the Window & Door Replacement Handout for additional information.
Water Heaters - A permit is required for a Water Heater replacement. Refer to the Typical Water Heater Installation Handout for additional Information. Submit a completed CF-1R-ALT form to show energy compliance. This form may be obtained at the counter.
If the water heater is located in an outdoor enclosure, or in the garage, submit a plot plan or floor plan showing the location on the property to the Planning Division for approval of the location. Refer to the Standard Plot Plan Form for additional information.
Air Conditioners - A permit is required for an air conditioning condenser replacement or new installation. Submit a plot plan showing the location on the property to the Planning Division for approval of the location.
Refer to the Standard Plot Plan Form for additional information.
Patio or Driveway Slab - No permit is required for a patio or driveway slab. A permit is required for footings for a future patio cover.
Driveways - Driveways require approval from the Planning Division, and a driveway approach permit from the Engineering Division of Public Works.
Block Walls/Retaining Walls - A permit is required for a block wall if the wall is 18” or more in height, and retaining walls of any height.
Submit a plot plan showing the location on the property to the Planning Division for approval of the location. Refer to the Standard Plot Plan Form for additional information.
Refer to the Typical Garden Wall Detail; Typical Retaining Wall Detail with Level Surcharge; or Typical Retaining Wall Detail with Garden Wall Handouts for additional Information.
If the wall is to be located on a shared property line, please complete the Common Property Line Wall Agreement Form, and have the property owner(s) on the adjacent property fill out and sign the form.
If the wall is to be located entirely on your property, please complete the Fence or Wall on Owners Property Form.
Roof & Reroof – Roofing and reroof permits and inspections are required for any roof structure your property. Most permits may be issued over the counter. Refer to the Roof & Re-roof Guidelines Handout for additional information.
All Roofs in the City of Whittier are required to meet a Class A rating.
To obtain a permit, provide Manufacturers Specifications for Roofing Materials, (i.e. Shingle style, Model Name, and Color) Provide the ICC-ES Report. Also, specify whether the existing roof is being removed, if new roof sheathing (plywood) is being applied, and what base or underlayment is to be installed.
For Flat or Low-Sloped Roofs, (with a pitch/ slope of 2:12 or less) provide specifications for the entire roof system to be used. (i.e. Base Sheet, Nail Base, Mid-ply, and Cap Sheet.) Provide the ICC-ES Report.
For reroofs on structures built prior to 1941, planning approval of the Architecture, finish materials, and colors will be required.
Some items are exempt from permits such as:
- wall papering
- installing carpet/ flooring
- window coverings
If you have any questions regarding what work requires permits, please contact the Building & Safety Division at (562) 567-9320.
Do I Need to Hire an Architect or Engineer for My Project?
Per the California Business & Professions Code, section 5537, an unlicensed person may prepare plans for projects that conform to conventional construction as specified in the building code, for residential structures not to exceed two-stories and a basement in height.
If the construction will deviate from these standards, a licensed Architect or Engineer will be required to prepare, stamp and sign the drawings.
There are several reasons to hire an architect, even for smaller projects. Licensed Architects are highly trained in all aspects of creating a safe and livable building, not just the artistic aspect. The licensing process requires education, training and testing, as well as an apprenticeship requirement. The process takes many years. A do-it-yourselfer, designer or contractor will simply not have the depth of understanding of a licensed Architect. Be aware that by law, only a licensed professional can call themselves an “Architect.” If someone calls themselves a “designer” or other designation, they are not an Architect.
5537. (From the California Business & Professions Code)
- This chapter does not prohibit any person from preparing plans, drawings, or specifications for any of the following:
- Single-family dwellings of wood frame construction not more than two stories and basement in height.
Multiple dwellings containing no more than four dwelling units of wood frame construction not more than two stories and a basement in height. However, this paragraph shall not be construed as allowing an unlicensed person to design multiple clusters of up to four dwelling units each to form apartment or condominium complexes where the total exceeds four units on any lawfully divided lot.
Garages or other structures appurtenant to buildings described under subdivision (a), of wood frame construction not more than two stories and basement in height.
Agricultural and ranch buildings of wood frame construction, unless the building official having jurisdiction deems that an undue risk to the public health, safety, or welfare is involved.
If any portion of any structure exempted by this section deviates from substantial compliance with conventional framing requirements for wood frame construction found in the most recent edition of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations or tables of limitation for wood frame construction, as defined by the applicable building code duly adopted by the local jurisdiction or the state, the building official having jurisdiction shall require the preparation of plans, drawings, specifications, or calculations for that portion by, or under the responsible control of, a licensed architect or registered engineer. The documents for that portion shall bear the stamp and signature of the licensee who is responsible for their preparation. Substantial compliance for purposes of this section is not intended to restrict the ability of the building officials to approve plans pursuant to existing law and is only intended to clarify the intent of Chapter 405 of the Statutes of 1985.
Do I Need to Pay School Fees for My Project?
School District Development Fees are required for any construction that is 500 square feet and over; excluding utility structures, i.e. garage, patio, shed, etc.
School District Development Fees are to be paid prior to the issuance of any building permits.
Contact Information for each school district:
Los Nietos School District
8324 S. Westman Avenue
Whittier, CA 90606 Residential (R): $1.84/sq. ft.
(562) 692-0271 Commercial (C / I): $0.30/sq. ft.
South Whittier School District
11200 Telechron Avenue
Whittier, CA 90605 Residential (R): $3.20/sq. ft.
(562) 944-6321 Commercial (C / I): $0.51/sq. ft.
Whittier City School District
7211 S. Whittier Avenue
Whittier, CA 90602 Residential (R): $2.97/sq. ft.
(562) 789-3000 Commercial (C / I): $0.47/sq. ft.
East Whittier City School District
14535 E. Whittier Boulevard
Whittier, CA 90605 Residential (R): $1.84/sq. ft.
(562) 698-0351 Commercial (C / I): $0.30/sq. ft.
Fullerton Union High School District
1027 S. Leslie Street
La Habra, CA 90631 Residential (R): $3.20/sq. ft.
(714) 870-2810 Commercial (C / I): $0.51/sq. ft.
*A copy of the building permit is required at the Fullerton Union High School District to pay the school district development fee. Verify current prices with the disctict office.
The School District Development Fee Forms are located at the City of Whittier Building and Safety Division. The projected square footage must be verified by the Building and Safety Division.
To determine which School District your property is located in, please contact the City of Whittier Building and Safety Division or click on the link to view the School District Map.
Do I Need to Post My Permit on a Window?
No, however, it is necessary for each inspection that the set of approved stamped plans, calculations and the original Building Permit card be available to the Building Inspector at the time of each inspection. The inspector will check the actual construction against the approved plans and sign-off on the back of the Building Permit card. A Correction Notice will be issued if anything is noted that needs further attention.
Does My Contractor Need a License?
California State Contractors License
In California, anyone who contracts to perform work that is valued at $500 or more for materials and labor must hold a current, valid license from the Contractors State License Board. There are 43 different types of contractor licenses, including general and specialty contractors. You can check on contractors and obtain valuable information for your project at the CSLB website, www.cslb.ca.gov.
Whittier Business License
Anyone who does business in Whittier is required to have a current City of Whittier Business License, including contractors and subcontractors. To obtain a business license, please contact the City Clerk’s Office at (562) 567-9880. You may also be required to present a certificate of workers’ compensation and proof of liability insurance coverage.
How Can I Get a Building Permit Application Form?
The City now provides a Building Permit Application Form which you may download and complete, or you can may obtain one at the counter.
How Do I Request a Building Inspection?
You may request inspections by calling the Building and Safety Division at (562) 567-9320 or by visiting our counter at City Hall.
When placing an inspection request, please have the following information available: the project address, the builder's name, the type of inspection you are requesting, the permit number, contact name, and a telephone number where you may be reached.
Inspection requests received by the Building and Safety Division before 3 p.m. will typically be scheduled for the next business day. If the requested day is full for inspections, you will be notified at the time of the call what day your inspection will be scheduled for. Requests received after 3 p.m. will be scheduled for the second business day thereafter.
How Do I Submit a Building Permit Application Form?
We do not accept forms by mail, email, or fax. An applicant needs to bring in the application form to our Building Department counter during normal business hours: (Monday – Friday 8:00 am to 2:30 pm)
The required submittal documents include:
- The completed Building Permit Application Form
- Four (4) or Five (5) sets of Plans, as required, depending on your project.
- Two (2) copies of the required supporting documents (photos, plans, calculations, etc.); and
- Pay all the fees by cash, check, or credit card
It is highly recommended that you contact this office for complete submittal requirements depending on the scope of your project.
How Long Does My Building Permit Remain Valid?
Your building permit will remain valid for 180 days from the date the permit is issued. Each time your project is inspected, and passes the inspection on your city Job Card, the expiration date is automatically extended to 180 days from that inspection date.*
If work has yet to start, or progress on the project has stalled, and the permit is still active, you may request, in writing with a detailed timeline of proposed project completion, an extension of 180 days. Submit a completed Request for Extension form.
W.M.C. Section 8.08.024 (I) Substandard property conditions designated.
Structures under construction for unreasonable periods. Any structure or portion thereof which has been under construction, whether authorized by a valid construction permit or not, for a period exceeding twenty-four months from the date upon which work commenced, and where the exterior of such construction is incomplete, as determined by the building department, and presents an unfinished appearance at the exterior.*
*Exterior Improvements must be completed within 24 months of permit issuance
What are the Public Counter Hours?
The public counter is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm. The counter does not close for lunch. You may consult with a building inspector at the counter or by phone from 8:00 am to 8:30 am and from 4:00 pm to 4:45 pm. The phone number is: (562) 567-9320.
What do I do if I have Unpermitted Work at my Property?
Refer to the Plan, Permit, and Inspection Procedures for Previously Unpermitted Construction handout for more information.
What Drawings are Required?
The drawings or architectural plans required can vary depending on the scope of your project. Contact the Building and Safety Division regarding your specific project. Drawings that may be required include:
Site Plan – This plan clearly shows an “aerial” or “birds-eye” view of your house, property lines, adjacent streets and properties and setbacks. This plan is mainly for the Planning and Building Divisions to assure proper setback and other requirements are met. On this plan, it should be clearly noted exactly what is existing and what is proposed to be built.
Floor Plan – This plan clearly shows the interior of the building. Walls to be removed, new walls, windows, doors, etc. should all be clearly noted on this plan. Again, as with the site plan, what is existing, and what is proposed to be built should be clearly noted.
Exterior Elevations – This plan shows the exterior details and finishes of the structure.
Foundation Plan – This plan is required to show size and location of new foundations and footings for your project.
Roof Framing Plan – This plan clearly indicates the size of roof rafters and ceiling joists. Typically, roof slope and roofing materials are called out on this plan.
Floor Framing Plan – This plan clearly indicates this size of all floor framing members. Floor joists, beam and subfloor size are customarily called out on this plan.
Cross Sections – These drawings show the building from a “cut-away” view and clearly illustrate all ceiling heights, wall construction, roof pitch, etc.
Construction Details – This is a set of enlarged construction assembly details showing connections of structural elements, waterproofing and flashing assemblies, and/ or project specific conditions.
Energy Calculations – These documents are required by the California Energy Commission to be submitted with your building plans. What these documents verify is the compliance of the structure (new and existing) to meet State energy standards. It is recommended that a professional energy consultant be utilized for this stage of your project. Also, a second energy consultant (provided by the applicant) will be required to check the original documents.
Structural Calculations – Structural calculations may be required if your project is large or of unusual shape. Also, it is safe to assume if your project is two stories, calculations will be required. These calculations are to verify that structural elements are adequately sized and connected at critical areas.
Typically, Four (4) sets of plans are required at the time of submittal. The Plan Review process usually takes two weeks from the Wednesday following plan submittal. (The Plan Reviewer picks up, and delivers plans on Wednesday mornings)
Once we receive the plans back with corrections, the applicant will be notified to pick up the plans at the Building Department counter and make any necessary corrections, and resubmit the originally submitted plans (Mark-ups) and three (3) new sets of plans, and any other supporting documents to the Building Department. Rechecks usually take one (1) week from the Wednesday following resubmittal of the corrected plans.
Once we receive the plans back with approval from the plan reviewer, the plans will be routed to the Planning Division for final approval. Once the plans are returned to Building & Safety with approval, the applicant will be notified that the permits are ready to be issued.
What if My Property has a Whittier Address, but is in the Unincorporated Area?
If your property is located in the unincorporated area of Whittier, you will need to contact the following offices for permits and all other inquiries:
Los Angeles County Building and Safety:
South Whittier Office La Puente Office (North Whittier)
13523 Telegraph Road 16005 East Central Avenue
Whittier, CA 90605 La Puente, CA 91744
(562) 946-1390 (626) 961-9611
What is required for a Pool and/or Spa?
Submit four (4) copies of the site/ plot plan, and two (2) copies of the pool engineering plans/ details, stamped and signed by the engineer, to the Planning Division for approval of the location of the pool and pool equipment. Upon approval from the Planning Division, the applicant will then be directed to the Building and Safety Division counter for permit issuance.
Refer to the Pool and Spa Requirements handout for the requirements for pools and spas, and the fence and gate requirements.
What Supporting Documents Do I Need?
The documentation required could vary from photographs of the current construction to full scale plans, structural calculations, Title 24 Report, etc. Contact the Building and Safety Division at (562) 567-9320 regarding your specific project.
What Will the Inspector Look at for the "Final" Inspection?
The inspector will look to see that all work is done in conformance with the approved plans and applicable building codes. In addition, it is a state requirement that for permits over $1,000 in value requires the inspector to verify that smoke detectors/ carbon monoxide sensor are located in each area required by the California Building Code. If you need more information on smoke detectors, please contact the Building Department, or click on the link: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Retrofit Verification Form
When Do I Need a Building Permit?
With only a few exceptions, a building permit must be issued prior to the commencement of work to erect, construct, enlarge, alter, move, improve, remove, convert, or demolish any building or structure. Other permits, i.e. electrical, plumbing or mechanical, may also be required.
Due to the diversity of construction projects, we would recommend that you contact our Building and Safety Division to discuss the types of permits and City review process that may be required for your proposed project.
Based on the construction valuation, permit fees will also be charged. The Department may be reached at (562) 567-9320 or visit our counter at City Hall. The counter is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm.
When Do I Need a Demolition Permit?
A permit is required to be issued by the Building and Safety Department, whenever a building is being demolished. This is to assure that construction debris has been removed, sewer or septic lines have been properly capped, and the site is restored to a safe condition to ensure that all health and safety hazards have been removed. Demolition permits are usually issued over-the- counter at the Building and Safety Division and the permit fees are minimal.
Demolition permits for buildings or structures that appear on a Federal, State, or local historical register as well as those that are determined to be historically significant, may require additional review prior to issuance.
California State Law also requires that all contaminants, such as asbestos, lead, and soil contaminants, be properly disposed of. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all demolition permit applicants first obtain clearance from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, prior to applying for a demolition permit from the City of Whittier. This may include a requirement to have the property tested for lead, and/ or asbestos by a certified testing agency.
South Coast Air Quality Management District may be reached at 21865 Copley Dr. - Diamond Bar CA 91765, via telephone at (909) 396-2000, or the District’s website: http://www.aqmd.gov.
For further information, please contact the Building and Safety Division at (562) 567-9320 for additional information regarding demolition permits or stop by our counter at City Hall.
When My Project is Done, What Do I Do With the Permit?
Your contractor should leave the approved plans and Building Permit Job Card with you for your files and future reference. This will serve as your permanent record that the work was completed in accordance with all applicable codes.
Why Do I Need a Building Permit?
Whether we are in our homes, offices, schools, or places of entertainment, we take for granted the fact that the structures that surround us are safe. What we usually don’t think about is that most aspects of building construction – framing, wiring, heating, and plumbing facilities – represent a potential hazard to building occupants and users.
Building codes strive to reduce risks to an acceptable level. Building inspections provide the means to verify that the codes have been followed. The building permit is the link between the two. The permit and inspections ensure that your personal safety is protected and that your investment in your home also is protected.