Building Code And Permit Fees

Borough Hall > Borough Departments > Building Code And Permit Fees

Pennsylvania Act 45 established a Uniform Building Code for all municipalities in the Commonwealth. It also changed the way building departments operate. For the first time, specific qualifications and certifications are required for building inspectors and code officials. The Act allows municipalities the opportunity to opt out of enforcement of the Act, an option Borough Council quickly decided against since it would have eliminated our ability to be aware of, regulate, control, and supervise construction within the Borough. While that might be acceptable for some of the rural communities in the northern tier of the state, it is not acceptable for a built up urban community like Catasauqua.

 

Overview Of Process

The Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code, Act 45, and the Borough's Zoning Ordinance regulate construction and the use of property in Catasauqua. Together, these significantly changed the way our building department functions, requiring permits where we did not require them in the past and vice versa. Our fee schedule has changed dramatically and we now use a single agency for all types of inspections, including electrical.

Based on our review of program requirements and regulations, we determined that the best solution for administering the Uniform Building Code was to continue with an outside agency as the Borough's building inspector. After accepting proposals from several agencies and reviewing their qualifications, the Borough selected W. Bruce Trout to provide and oversee these services. While not the most significant change in our operations, the Borough now has one inspector for all our electrical work. Residents will not have to pay the Borough a permit fee and then pay the individual inspector whatever his inspection fee would have been.

Generally, applicants will see little change in the process. However, some projects which formerly did not require a permit will now require a permit and vice versa. The fee structure has also been revised so that the fees relate more closely to the complexity of the project and not its cost or size.

The major components of the plan review/building inspection program are:

1. PERMIT NEED DETERMINATION:
In February 2004, Catasauqua adopted a new zoning ordinance. That ordinance changed many regulations and requirements on setbacks, heights of fences, location of accessory structures, and swimming pools. As a result, some projects which formerly did not require a zoning permit now will. For example, all fences now need a permit.
 
With the adoption of Act 45 and the statewide Uniform Building Code, some projects which formerly required building permits will now need only a zoning permit. Among these are ground level decks, most sheds, and other accessory structures up to 500 square feet. 
 
The zoning officer and the building inspector know which projects will require what permit. The office staff has a list of projects that they refer to and can give some amount of guidance by reading that list; however, they have not been trained nor is it their responsibility to provide technical information on what, if any, permits are required. They have been instructed to err on the side of caution, informing potential applicants that they might need a permit, even when the final determination indicates one was not needed. Of course if a permit was not required, we would refund any application fees.
 
It's extremely important that the application submitted is as complete and thorough as possible. It will serve as the basis for review and permit issuance. If you have any questions, speak with either the zoning officer or building inspector because they do have the training to know what permits are required.


2. PLAN REVIEW:
Once a completed application has been submitted, it is reviewed first by the zoning officer to determine compliance with the zoning ordinance. All applications are reviewed by the zoning officer, even those that are obviously not zoning related such as roof repairs. This is done to ensure that no project, which should receive zoning review, is missed. The zoning review will determine whether a zoning permit is needed, whether the permit can be approved as submitted, or whether the application will require a hearing and request for a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. If a zoning variance or special exception use permit is required, the applicant will be notified of the procedures and fees for applying to the Zoning Hearing Board. After the zoning review has been completed, the application is given to the building inspector for a similar review. If during either review additional information is needed or corrections have to be made, the applicant is notified and given an opportunity to make those changes. When the application is finally approved by zoning and building, the permit is issued.

3. INSPECTIONS:
As important as it is to obtain a permit before starting work, it is just as important to call for inspections during the construction process. The number of inspections and their timing will be given with the permit. They can range from the very simple stake out and final inspection to make sure the project was done in the right location - for example, that a shed was put at the right place - to six or seven inspections for the construction of a new home. Failing to call for and have an inspection performed prior to going forward with the project could have serious implications. If it is simply a shed being placed in the wrong location, the shed could be moved. However, if it is installing an in-ground swimming pool in the wrong location or improperly laying out and framing a house, it could cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to correct the error. In addition, there are fines and penalties that can be levied for failing to call for inspections just like there are penalties for failing to obtain a permit when it's necessary.

4. FEE STRUCTURE:
Anyone who applies for a permit will notice a change in the permit fees. Except for certain consulting and non-building permit work, there is a flat rate for all types of projects. As a result, we can much more accurately determine our costs for each project and have incorporated them into the permit fees. For this reason, we have gone from a sliding fee schedule to a flat rate schedule. While anyone applying for a permit may experience "sticker shock," in many cases the eventual fee is not that much greater than it used to be when all aspects of the projects are considered.

As an example, in 2008 the permit fee for a new home was up to 3,500 SF is $730.00 and included all inspections (unless re-inspections are required for continual failures). While this seems like a high price, when compared to the old schedule it actually compares favorably.

On the other end of the scale, permits for small sheds and accessory structures is now a flat $30.00, regardless of cost of construction. Obviously, if plumbing or electrical work is included, permits and fees for those specialties would be additional. In the mid-range, swimming pool permits may be more expensive; however, the permit fee now includes what the property owner would have had to pay for the third party electrical inspector in the past, virtually negating any significant difference in final costs.

Some permits will cost more than they did in the past, while many permits will cost somewhat less than they did previously. These examples are only meant to illustrate the nature of the change; they cannot and should not be used to indicate what the fee will be for any particular project. That information is available from either the zoning officer or the building inspector.

As a part of Act 45, the Commonwealth has the responsibility for overseeing the administration of each municipal code and for the training, testing, and licensing of inspectors. To finance this, the state imposes a fee, which is currently $2.00, on each permit issued. Taking all the elements together, our permit fees can be broken down into two major components. The first is the full fee, less $30.00, which the Borough pays to the contract inspection agency. The remaining $30.00 includes the fee to the state and helps cover the costs of zoning review, office staff time, supplies, forms, and related items.

!!! WARNING !!!

There is one other very important fee that everyone considering a project must be aware of. If you do work that requires a permit without obtaining that permit, when you are caught there is an administrative surcharge added to the permit fees. That administrative penalty is equal to $50.00 or 50% of the permit fee, whichever is greater. In some cases the administrative penalty could be more than the permit fee itself. It is meant to be punitive; it is a punishment for not following the rules. This is not a new charge; it's been in place for several years and has worked quite successfully. Reference to it is included here only to make sure that everyone is aware of it and the fact that it will be levied if you build without the proper permits.