Building permit fee changes to start June 1

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2003

It is more important than ever for property owners planning to build new structures to check with the city planning and zoning commission before getting started.

Changes in both the building codes and permit fees mean all of the old rules may not apply and plans should be reviewed by the city to make sure everything is up to code.

The permit fee changes will make residential fees comparable to commercial ones. Right now, the permit fees for residential buildings cost much less.

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"We are looking at narrowing that margin," Community Development Director Craig Hoium said. "Their activities are just as labor intensive, if not more, than the commercial projects are."

As of June 1, half of the increase will take place. On Jan. 1 of next year, the full increase will take effect.

Fees do not put money into the city general fund; they are used to pay for inspection costs. Last year, the city was short about $40,000 from inspection costs.

Both property owners or licensed contractors can apply for permits, but Hoium offered some advice.

"You should make that part of your agreement, that the contractor takes out the building permits," he said.

That way, if something is not up to code, the city will deal with the contractor instead of the property owner.

Permit exemptions have also changed, so a structure that would not have needed a permit, may need one now before it can be built.

Also on June 1, the city will switch to a new building code. Currently Austin uses the Uniform Building Code. That code is one of many used in the United States, but in a nationwide effort for consistency in codes, all states are switching to the International Building Code.

This code changes some of the rules. For example, for a new deck, stair landings will have to be illuminated under the new codes. Also, the minimum amount of weight a roof can support will increase.

Structures built before the code is adopted do not need to be changed to fit the new codes.

There are many more changes, so people must talk to the building inspectors or Hoium to make sure everything is done properly. Hoium asked that people allow seven to 10 days for his office to go over the plans and do a review.

Hoium said the building codes are not in place to make anyone's life difficult. They are used to keep people safe, to make sure buildings are structurally sound and to make sure they are weather resistant.

He said they are there "to enforce minimum standards for the community to provide public health and welfare."

"If none of those rules were in place … there would be times when there would be some developments that weren't in the best interest of the community," Hoium said.

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at