It has been six months since most states enacted some level of policy changes in the wake of Covid-19 infections across the United States. Throughout this time, businesses and government agencies have worked toward a return to normal – at least in terms of finding a balance between the need for people to stay safe during this pandemic and companies to continue productivity. The pandemic has had some effect on businesses across all industries, but construction permitting has definitely been impacted.
The following Q&A includes the 10 most common questions we receive at Express Permits from companies looking to navigate the current permitting process. If you have any further questions, please reach out to us by phone (877-898-9988), fax (866-231-6089) or e-mail, and we would be happy to help you.
Government permits are being issued throughout the United States. Some states, counties and cities continue to accept only electronic submissions or require an appointment for in-person visits, and like everything else, the process has become more streamlined in recent months as personnel adjusted in some areas while delays remain in others. While some localities accept only in-person submissions through couriers or drop boxes, most have staff on-site or electronic portals.
Many cities, counties and state offices are now open for non-scheduled in-person visits. Some have limited office hours or days but more and more each week are returning to pre-March operating hours. Backlogs are getting shorter as time passes, but every office is its own island, so be sure to check your local agency for times, locations and availability before beginning the process. Or let Express Permits do it for you.
The biggest challenge is knowing who and if someone is going to be available at the government building. Websites that were updated in March to adapt to new Covid-19 guidelines are not always updated as hours and policies revert back to more open-door flexibility.
Some agencies – mostly in high-population areas and larger cities – are not accepting anyone in the building but have staff on-site to process requests. Others are working 100 percent remotely.
The result of this is a growing need to be 100 percent sure you are following the right procedures for the appropriate location. Urban, suburban and ex-urban governments may have three completely different processes even though they all exist in the same metropolitan area.
And these policies can change on a weekly or monthly basis as decisions are made.
An offshoot of this is that there sometimes is not a staff member who can help immediately. This can delay a permitting process, especially if there is not much time in your busy day for follow-ups.
Cities and major population centers – especially in the South, Sun Belt and Midwest – continue to be the most affected areas with the highest number of Covid-19 cases, but rural areas are quickly catching up in terms of cases per 1,000 residents. And this is proving troublesome for these areas because they lack the volume of support when it comes to government services that can be found in larger urban areas.
In California, government agencies are required to schedule 75 percent of their office workers remotely each day, meaning that skeleton crews are available on-site to address in-person drop-offs and requests.
With more than 6 million cases and 190,000 deaths already reported across the United States, the newest hotbeds appearing are college towns, where 10s of thousands of young adults return each fall from homes throughout the United States. For example, after two weeks back on campus, the University of Alabama reported more than 1,000 cases in just three days – eclipsing the total number of cases throughout all of Canada that same week.
Experts expect Covid cases to spike again in late September or early October as many grade schools and high schools also began reopening.
In most localities, yes. Beginning in the summer, government services began re-opening to the public as Covid cases in cities and counties steadied. Many are operating under normal business hours, though they also continue to accept electronic submissions.
It is best to check your individual locality’s status before beginning the permit process. The easiest way to do that is to Google search your town, county or state (depending on the office you need) and the name of the permit you are seeking.
For example: “Cuyahoga County Ohio Building Permits” will direct you to the home page for permits and licenses in Cleveland, Ohio. You can also use our location pages to find contact information for many state agencies.
According to Census.gov, Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in July 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,495,000. This is 18.8 percent (plus-1.1 percent) above the revised June 2020 rate of 1,258,000 and is 9.4 percent (plus-1.5 percent) above the July 2019 rate of 1,366,000. Single-family authorizations in July were at a rate of 983,000. This is 17.0 percent (plus-1.2 percent) above the revised June figure of 840,000.
It is important to note that these 2020 numbers also include recovery from an April and May that saw 20-plus percent drops.
On the commercial side, permitting for construction continues to rise but again much of that can be attributed to “catching up” from a dismal spring and early summer. The most dramatic rise in permit requests are coming from large-scale residential projects, specifically builders who are returning to operations before wintertime.
Commercial projects are starting to return to 2019 levels in most areas, led by solar panel installation. Large corporations also appear to be investing in internal systems that require new building permits.
Retail development, on the other hand, is in sharp decline. Urgent care facilities, the number one commercial property of the last half-decade, have also slowed dramatically.
A big question that remains unanswered in many states and counties is how health departments are going to address occupancy moving forward. For example, a restaurant that once had a maximum occupancy of 250 in pre-Covid times now can allow half that number on-site during operations. By law in most areas, that would require a new occupancy permit. Whether or when health departments will begin to enforce that is unknown.
Express Permits is a full-service permit services firm. We handle the entire suite of permit management for residential and commercial contractors, remodelers, subcontractors, construction retailers and more. From reviewing drawings to submitting permit applications to requesting zoning variances, we are your liaison to the government.
Our professional permit technicians provide the research required for every commercial project, regardless of the type of construction being performed. Most importantly, they follow the guidelines and process that each building department's plan reviewer requires.
Express Permits has personnel coast to coast in the United States to service permitting needs from submittal to approval, including all updates and revisions along the way. We remain in constant contact with our clients and government agencies throughout the process.
The majority of clients at Express Permits deal in commercial work, including hospitality, health care, solar, manufacturing and retail.
Express Permits is not a runner service, though we do offer that within a client contract in certain circumstances.
Starting this year, Express Permits is now offering an online permit application submitting process that government agencies can outsource in order to eliminate costs and free up staff time.
Local, county and state governments can work with Express Permits to use a customized online submittal form that is easy and effective. Express Permits then connects the public with each individual agency.
The forms are then processed by Express Permit staff members who are International Code Council certified and sent to the appropriate destinations.
For more information on this, visit: https://www.expresspermits.net/government-permit-services.
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