Best Practices for Building Permitting for Local Governments


building permit software illustration

Municipalities and counties have traditionally managed building permits "over the counter" and through paper or PDF applications. With online building permit software, local governments can streamline the licensing and housing construction process. The benefits of bringing building permits online include improvements in efficiency, transparency, communication, cost reductions, and more.

Why do governments offer building permits? 

A building permit is an important requirement for cities and counties to ensure buildings and structures are safe, with sound engineering, foundations and construction techniques. Building permits are how  local governments evaluate construction, renovation, demolition, or alteration plans and assess their compliance with standard building codes and local regulations. Usually the permitting process also ensures that contractors and builders are licensed and insured professionals.


Typically, applicants who intend to construct and build or renovate an existing structure must submit an application with detailed information like schematics, blueprints, intended materials, contractor or vendor information and licenses, and timelines. This ensures all building plans are fire and flood resistant, up to electrical codes, and ultimately safe and habitable for human use. Building codes largely follow the same standards but do vary in each state.


An individual or department from each local government is then responsible for evaluating these applications and determining if they are in line with regulations. If the applications are not compliant with local and state regulation, the application review team must provide feedback to the applicants so they can correct the issue and resubmit the application.

Building permits are important to local communities in order to: 

● Ensure lasting safety of the general public and structures 

● Enforce consistent and up-to-date construction/renovation practices

● Maintain code and compliance for buildings and dwellings

What are the challenges with traditional building permit processes? 

The classic building permit process is tedious and time consuming. Applicants are required to fill out a number of forms -which they must collect from disparate locations and return to various locations. 

The applicant is responsible for obtaining documentation and signatures from a variety of individuals or business representatives and submitting those forms to the right government official or office location(s) instead of streamlined signature submissions. Plus, if the forms are brought to the wrong location, applicants must begin again. Once forms are submitted, the review board may take a long time to approve the project, too.

The process also takes an unusually long time, considering the modern, technology forward world we live in. Instead of using a simplified digital platform that is easily accessible to applicants to check the status of their application, allow builders/developers to submit schematics and plans, and approving bodies to review submissions in one centralized location, the traditional paper or PDF methods impose upon one single applicant to manage the entire process, and creates a convoluted review process. 

The current building permit process is outdated.

The good news is that modern technology and innovation have created much more effective approaches to the building permit application and approval process for cities and counties. 

Introducing these best practices to your building permit strategy will contribute to shorter wait times, streamlined workflow and a more efficient building permit process in your area. 

Best Practices in Building Permits: 

Hire or contract out for skilled staff:

It’s common in larger governments for there to be full time building inspectors on staff or working as consultants; smaller governments may contract with building and engineering experts on an as-needed basis. For the safety of your community, it’s essential that experienced professionals are involved in the substantive review of proposed buildings. There are accreditation options for individuals and entire building departments.

Allow for online applications:

Especially post COVID-19 there is absolutely no reason to maintain paper-only building permit applications. In fact, it may be best to only offer online applications. Using an online software creates one space for documents and forms. This means applicants can return to their unique profile or work order to submit paperwork. It means that their contractors or developers can directly submit building plans to the online forum. And, it means that your government permit approval staff doesn’t have to go back and forth looking for paperwork or accessing files. All of the application information is in one location and can be securely accessed by applicants and their builders, and also by government staff and permit review teams. Online applications are the most simple approach to building permits. 

Streamline the application review process:

One of the biggest hurdles in building permit processes for cities and counties is a disorganized approach. Building permits are an incredibly important part of the governmental processes to align in accordance with codes and regulations. In order to avoid possible structural issues and potential lawsuits, the building permit process should clearly define which paperwork and documentation is necessary for each type of project, and which government staff members are responsible for each part of the review, approval and inspection processes with a precise outline of the order of operations. Remove or update any antiquated parts of the current building permit application process that don’t work efficiently and restructure the parts of the process that are out of order. This might include being able to provide regular status updates to applicants, or automated emails detailing which phase the review board is on.

Give your team deadlines:

Timeliness is key when it comes to effective building permit practices. Building is a time sensitive process, where each step in the process must be done exactly in the right order. Most building permit applications require schematics or proposed building plans at the time of the initial submission. These plans typically include a timeline and building schedule with a step by step, and usually day-by-day proposed timetable. This requires significant coordination and scheduling on the part of contractors, and any delays could set the build-out back significantly. Inasmuch, the review and approval process should be punctual, timely, and considerate of the building process and proposed schedules. Ensure that your employees stick to a strict approval protocol by establishing deadlines and timeframes. Each application should be reviewed and responded to according to pre-fixed time allotments without exception so that builders can get to work. 

Make a commitment to good communication between the review board and applicants: Oftentimes the biggest delays to building projects starting on-time and staying on track is because the communication between government officials and review boards and applicants is strained, when a project requires variances and special hearing. This may be due to ineffective communication methods (like still relying on traditional mail,) because no review board member is officially appointed to initiate communications, or because some permits require multiple inspections in multiple disciplines. Whatever the issues may be, good communication between the review board and applicants is key to moving each application efficiently through the building permit process while still maintaining commitment to proper procedure.

Use modern technology at the level that’s appropriate for your community:

If you’re a large government approving hundreds of permits each week, you’ll need to have the most sophisticated systems such as automated plan review tools, remote video inspections with supervisor reviews,  and deep integrations with all existing technology and GIS systems. But most smaller governments can process, track, and store permits with much simpler and more cost-effective systems like CityGrows.

Make guidelines easily accessible to applicants:

If applicants don’t have simple, clear, or easily accessible resources that outline exactly what the submission requirements are, the applications will likely be missing documents, signatures or schematics. Make sure that the required information and a step-by-step outline of the building permit application is available to the general public. Plus, it doesn’t hurt for your government staff to be well-versed on the process and code requirements in case applicants reach out with inquiries. 


Develop a flow chart and then transfer it into a software program that makes all steps visible:

Without a clearly defined flow of events, the already complex building permit application and approval process becomes even less efficient. In order to avoid overly convoluted explanations and confusion, work with your government team to ensure that all  the steps in the process are clearly communicated to staff and applicants. Identify every possible outcome for each step in the process. For example, if a submission is not compliant, what happens to the application? Then, what are the next steps involved in correcting issues and reapplying? A flow chart (or software program) that examines and directs the process will go a long way to simplifying the building permits approval process, like building permit flow chart for Missoula County, Montana and this flow chart for Paducah, Kentucky. It’s also a good idea to share this flowchart with the public so that applicants can understand the process and follow along easily. A software like CityGrows will allow you to incorporate the set of possibilities of each outcome at every phase of the process into its backend logic system. That means, once it’s set up, the software can do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to determining which step is next in the process. And, it’s already set up to automatically communicate changes and updates to applicants. The process of determining who does what, when is often more complex than setting up the software to reflect that series of events. Think ahead to include all the parts of permitting, from applications through final inspections in your workflows.

Work with an easy to use software

Software that streamlines the permitting workflow will help to develop an efficient, and effective building permit process for your community. It can be a powerful tool for your government agency because it also incorporates helps ensure that you can track compliance with timelines and monitor the quality of your team’s work. 

A software system like CityGrows will serve as a way to:

  • Accept online applications
  • Streamline the building permit application review process
  • Enforce deadlines
  • Simplify communication
  • Clarify guidelines
  • Allow your non-computer programming team to manage their permitting workflow themselves

Transforming your building permit process: 

Streamlining your building permit process can be simpler than you expect. By introducing these best practices you’ll see the internal workflows improve and impress applicants with an easy building permit application process. By adopting an easy to use software like CityGrows into your building permit system, you’ll be able to quickly achieve all of the best practices outlined above, and set the example for how cities and counties should operate their building permit procedures.  

The CityGrows team is here to help your city achieve a new level of efficiency when it comes to building permits. Our software will transform your approach and make both applicants and approvers' lives easy.



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