Detailed Explanation of Permitting Requirements

Shandy Heil, Skinner, Patricia  |  1/4/2007 6:31:05 PM

In many jurisdications you will need one or more of the following in order to get a building permit.  Check with your local building official for details.

Flood zone determination

Before a permit can be obtained, the owner needs to determine if the property is in the officially recognized Special Flood Hazard Area, commonly called “the flood zone”. This determination will affect what additional permitting requirements you may have, but more importantly it will affect how you design the home, particularly the foundation. Some building departments provide a flood zone determination form that the owner fills out with the property address, and for a small fee, the building department completes the form with the necessary information. Some departments and most mortgage companies require that the flood zone be determined by a recognized (and insured) flood zone determination company. If there is any doubt as to whether the property is in a flood hazard area, it would be advisable to get the determination your mortgage company and insurance agent will use. Your local government may determine that you are outside the flood zone and not required to elevate. In this situation, if your property is near a flood zone, you should take it upon yourself to ensure that your home is built higher than the elevation required for homes in that nearby flood zone. Also, if you are in a levee-protected area, you should build several feet higher than the required elevation.

Damage Inspection Ratings

If your home was damaged by Katrina or Rita, it is likely that the damage was inspected and rated. If your home is damaged by some other event, such as a house fire, the degree of damage must be assessed prior to getting a permit to restore the home. Damage ratings should be obtained early in the planning stages, because they will affect how you need to design your project long before you’re ready to obtain a permit. The ratings from Katrina and Rita will be on file at your local building department. If your home was rated as being more than 50% damaged, you will be required to meet current building codes and flood elevation requirements. If your home was less than 50% damaged, any existing conditions that are not building code or flood elevation compliant are likely to be “grandfathered”- meaning that you can repair the home to its pre-storm condition without meeting post-storm building requirements. It is thus very important to know what the damage rating is for your home prior to planning your project: a high rating could require significant rebuilding, whereas a low rating might allow some simple repairs and remodeling.

Elevation Certificate

If your home is located in the designated Special Flood Hazard Area (the flood zone) and was destroyed or received a damage inspection rating of 50% or more, or if you are building a new home in a flood zone, then you will need professional assistance from a land surveyor or engineer in preparing for permitting and construction. One of these professionals must prepare a survey of the property, locate the proposed construction on the survey drawing, and prescribe a minimum height for the elevation of the lowest floor of the home. This height is usually prescribed on the plan as a measurement above a specific “bench mark” on or near the site, or in reference to a mark set by the surveyor (e.g., nail in a tree on the property). This survey with elevation requirements will need to be stamped with the professional’s seal and signed across that seal. Most jurisdictions will require that the survey data be entered on an official, preliminary Elevation Certificate. The FEMA Elevation Certificate used by most jurisdictions, and revised periodically, can be download from the FEMA web site at http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/160?id=1383. Use of the latest version became mandatory on January 1, 2007.

Engineered foundation plan

If your flood zone determination indicates that you are in a high velocity flood zone (designated by the letter “V” on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), then you will be required to have an architect or engineer prepare a stamped and signed foundation design for you. In order to prepare this foundation design, the engineer or architect will need to know all about the house it will support. They will thus need to prepare construction documents for the house, or have access to ones that you have already purchased or prepared. Foundations for V-zone properties have different design requirements than foundations in A-zones or areas of minimal flood risk. See this page for more information about foundations in flood hazard areas.

On-Site Waste Water Treatment Permits

If your home is not connected to a city sewer system, then you have (or will need) an on-site waste water treatment system on your property. Your system may be an aerobic treatment unit, a septic tank with an oxidation pond, a septic tank with a leaching field, or a septic tank that simply drains to a ditch. All on-site waste water treatment systems need to be maintained regularly and some of the old septic systems that drain into a ditch are no longer legal.

For this reason, when you go to pull a permit to repair or rebuild your home, you may be required to have your on-site waste water system recertified. This will require an inspection of the system by a sanitarian from the local Public Health Unit. In some parishes, these inspections will be triggered automatically by the permitting office, in other parishes you will be asked to arrange for an inspection and certification yourself. If you need to obtain a recertification certificate for your system, you can call your local Public Health Unit to arrange for this service. You can find the contact information for your local PHU on this website: http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/page/627 .

When you call ask for the Environmental Services Office or the sanitarian services person or department. They will be able to explain the process, schedule an inspection, and tell you what documentation you may need to provide. Know that septic systems need to be regularly pumped, and the sanitarian may ask that you first have this done by a licensed professional before the inspection unless you have a bill of sale from a recent servicing. If you have an aerobic treatment unit, the sanitarian will probably want to see that you have a maintenance agreement in place with a licensed professional. Depending on your parish, the sanitarian will either provide you with a recertification certificate to submit to the permitting department, or will simply notify the permitting department directly that you are ready to proceed with a building permit.

If you are building a new home, or if your on-site waste water system needs replacing, you will have to apply for a permit to do this at the Public Health Unit. You should call ahead to schedule an appointment. The PHU staff will tell you exactly what you need to bring in for the application, but in most cases you will need a survey of the property stamped by the surveyor, or if you do not have a survey you can go to your parish courthouse and get the clerk of court to provide a stamped plat of your property. Along with this plat or survey you will probably need to bring a property deed or bill of sale for the property to prove that you are the owner. The clerk of court can also help you find a copy of your deed or bill of sale.

When you submit your application, you will be asked to mark your property boundaries with stakes, and place a stake where you would like the treatment system installed. The treatment system will need to be at least ten feet from the property boundary and at least fifty feet from any water well (the further from a well, the better). When the stakes are in place, a sanitarian will come out to inspect the site and will indicate on your application form where the system is to be located, the affluent reduction amount, and the required size of the system. This information will guide the professional installer in building your system.

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