First Time Applying for a Building Permit

We understand that navigating the process of obtaining a building permit can be complex and potentially overwhelming, especially if you're doing it for the first time. This webpage is meant to simplify the process and provide you with a step-by-step roadmap to successfully apply for and obtain a building permit in Humboldt County.

Whether you're applying to permit your new house, structures associated with a cannabis farm, or resolve a substandard housing case, the process remains the same. The tabs below will explain each of the seven key steps required for permit issuance.

The first step is to figure out what needs permits. Humboldt County Code (HCC)  §331-11(a)(4) and California Building Code (CBC) §105.2 describe development that does not require a building permit. If your development fits one of these descriptions, chances are you will not need a building permit. Note that the CBC allows fences up to 7ft without a permit while HCC only allows fences up to 6ft. Because the most restrictive requirement applies (CBC §1.1.7.3), all fences over 6ft will require a building permit in Humboldt County.

If you are involved in a code violation it should be made clear to you what needs building permits in a correction document provided to you. The same is true for a cannabis license application. The Planning Division will issue a staff report which details what requires building permits. If you are still uncertain you can talk with a Permit Technician, and they will work with you to understand your development and what will require a building permit.

Although the permit process will remain mostly the same, certain types of structures will have unique requirements.

Important: To qualify for an AOB permit your parcel CAN NOT have public water or public sewer services readily available.

Important: AOB residences MAY NOT be used as short term rentals.

Introduction

The Modified Limited Density Owner-Built Rural Dwelling Regulations (AOB regulations) were established by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on July 10, 1984, to address the unique climatic, geographical, and topographical conditions of our region. They are designed to allow individual builders to use their creativity and preferences in constructing dwellings in designated rural areas of Humboldt County, while still maintaining minimum requirements for public safety and welfare.

The regulations apply to the construction, enlargement, conversion, alteration, repair, use, maintenance, and occupancy of owner-built, owner-occupied dwellings, accessory dwelling units, and related structures in rural areas. This includes seasonally or permanently occupied dwellings, hunting shelters, vacation homes, recreational shelters, and detached bedrooms used solely by the owner of the dwelling.

Key Points

If you are considering applying for a permit under these regulations, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Permit Applications: The owner of the parcel will need to apply for the permit and will need to act as the general contractor throughout development. As the general contractor you may subcontract, but you must be the primary point of contact.
  2. Frequency of Permits: No more than one building permit for initial construction of an owner-built dwelling in a rural area can be issued to the same person in any two-year period.
  3. Plans: You will need to submit a complete submittal (see Construction Documents) for your proposed structure at the time of application. Your construction plans shall, at minimum, include a site plan, floor plan, elevations, an electrical plan, and energy calculations. See this AOB Construction Plan Checklist for more information.
  4. Permit Validity: Permits issued for initial construction of dwellings are valid, without renewal, for a period of five successive years. Extensions may be granted under certain circumstances.
  5. Insurance: Insuring AOB structures is typically more expensive due to not having a fire sprinkler system and not having the structural elements inspected during development.
  6. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU): The primary AOB dwelling shall be occupied by its owner-builder only. Owner-built ADUs may be used by persons other than the owner of the dwelling; however, per HCC 314- 69.05.3.4, short-term rentals are still not allowed. ADUs shall not be rented for periods of thirty (30) days or less.

Construction Requirements

The primary advantage of these regulations is their flexibility. They allow for the use of alternative materials, procedures, and specifications that might not be prescribed by the current technical codes, provided they ensure a reasonable degree of health and safety. This flexibility can potentially save you time and money, and it allows you to build a dwelling that truly reflects your vision and needs. Here is a summary of the construction requirements.

  1. General: If your development complies with the AOB regulations, you will not be held to the structural requirements of the current California Building and Residential Code and will not need to install a fire sprinkler system. Please note that these regulations allow for the use of substitute materials and alternative construction methods, provided they meet a reasonable degree of health and safety. The Chief Building Official has the authority to exercise judgment in determining compliance with these regulations.
  2. Mechanical Requirements: If you're installing fireplaces, heating and cooking appliances, or gas piping, they must be installed and vented according to their manufacturer’s instructions and specific chapters of the current California Mechanical and Plumbing Codes.
  3. Heating & Energy Requirements: Your dwelling must have a heating facility or appliance and, therefore, must comply with the current California Energy Code (see 2022 Energy Code Mandatory Requirements). Energy calculations (see Construction Documents) will be required prior to submitting for a permit.
  4. Photovoltaic (PV) System: A PV system may be required depending on the results of your energy calculations. Typically, a PV system will be required for any new dwelling with over 700 square feet of conditioned space.
  5. Electrical Requirements: You’re dwelling, or related structure isn't required to be connected to a source of electrical power unless you're installing electrical wiring or appliances. If you do, the installation must comply with the current California Electric Code for single-family dwellings (see AFCIGFCI).
  6. Room Dimension Requirements: Bedrooms must have either a door to the outside or an exterior window with specific dimensions for emergency exit (see Emergency Escape Openings).
  7. Sanitation Facilities: You must provide a bathtub or shower and a lavatory, or alternative bathing and washing facility at the dwelling site. A toilet isn't required if an alternative system (incinerator toilet, composting toilet, etc.) is provided and approved by the County Environmental Health Department. Note that an approved septic system must be provided on-site before an alternative toilet system will be allowed. Also, if you use an alternative washing facility, you must provide a system for the disposal or treatment of greywater.
  8. Plumbing Specifications: If you install conventional plumbing, it must comply with the current California Plumbing Code and manufacturer’s instructions. However, alternative materials and methods are allowed if they comply with the intent of the code and protect health and safety (see Hot Water Heaters).
  9. Water Supply: Potable water must be available at the dwelling site, but it doesn't need to be pressurized. You must maintain a minimum reserve of fifty gallons of potable water and a firefighting water supply of at least 2,500 gallons (see Wildfire Hazard and Fire Safe Regulations).
  10. Fire Safety: If your dwelling has road access, the road should be wide enough for fire equipment and provide turnouts and a turnaround space. You should remove flammable undergrowth for thirty feet around each structure and maintain the roof of any structure free of leaves, needles, or other dead vegetable growth (see Wildfire Hazard and Fire Safe Regulations).
  11. High and Very High Fire Severity Zones: If you're applying for an AOB permit for a new dwelling in a high or very high fire severity zone, you must comply with the materials and construction methods for exterior wildfire exposures of the California Residential Code (CRC 337) and Chapter 7A of the California Building Code (CBC) as amended (see Wildfire Hazard).

Remember, our team is here to assist you throughout this process. We encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Our goal is to ensure that your project meets all safety and regulatory standards, and that the process of obtaining a permit is as smooth and straightforward as possible.