Below is FAQ, using city of Palo Alto (CA) as sample. Please contact your city for the specific regulations.
Do I need a building permit?
Most construction requires a building permit. This includes remodeling, demolition, additions, tenant improvements, signs, and replacing a roof, water-heater or furnace. 2nd-story additions, new homes and many non-residential projects require planning application approval prior to a building permit.
How do I know what uses are permitted on my property?
The zoning of your property determines what uses are permitted. To determine the zoning classification of your property, use the online zoning maps . After you have determined your zone, refer to Title 18 of the Municipal Code to determine what uses are permitted on the property and what restrictions may apply. The Planning Division has developed a “what use where matrix” to help you conveniently determine what uses are permitted on your property, but the final authority is always the Municipal Code.
I want to put a shed on my property. What do I need to know?
A shed is considered an accessory structure. An accessory structure less than 120 square feet does not require a permit. However, there are regulations as to the height and placement of the structure. Additional Accessory Structure information may be found in Title 18.88 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code.
How big can you build? What is the maximum square footage and floor area ratio (FAR) allowed?
Maximum house size (or gross floor area) for all homes in the R-1 district and R-1 subdistrict is 6,000 square feet, including attached garages and attached accessory units.
Maximum FAR for the first 5,000 square feet of lot size is 0.45 (reduced to 0.30 for square footage of lot sizes in excess of 5,000 square feet) for all homes in the R-1 district and R-1 subdistricts.
How high can you build?
Standard maximum height allowed (as measured to the peak of the roof) is 30 feet for homes in the R-1 district and R-1 subdistricts.
Maximum height for homes in the flood zone or for homes with a roof pitch of 12:12 or greater is 33 feet.
Where can you build on your lot? What are the required setbacks?
Front Yard setbacks are contextual, and will be the greater of 20 feet or the average setback, if the average setback is 30 feet or more.
Rear Yard setbacks are 20 feet and Street Side Yard setbacks are 16 feet for homes in the R-1 district and R-1 subdistrict.
Interior Side Yard setbacks are 6 feet for homes in the R-1 district, and 8 feet for homes in the R-1 subdistrict.
What are the regulations on building multiple stories?
Multiple story developments are limited to a maximum of 35% site coverage.
Second floors (or equivalent, defined as areas with heights greater than 17 feet) are counted twice in the gross floor area calculation.
What are the regulations on building basements?
Basements are permitted only in areas not designated as a flood zone. Basements may not extend beyond the building footprint, and are not allowed below any portion that extends into required setbacks.
Basements will not be calculated into gross floor area if they are deemed to not be habitable space (such as crawlspace), or are deemed to be habitable space but the finished level of the first floor is no more than 3 feet above the grade around the perimeter of the building foundation.
What are the regulations on building accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”)?
For attached ADUs, maximum living size is 450 square feet (including covered parking space maxed at 200 square feet and basement space), and will count towards the calculation of maximum gross floor area.
Maximum height is one (1) story capped at 17 feet,
Detached ADUs must be at least 12 feet away from the main dwelling, and have a maximum living size of 900 square feet (including covered parking space maxed at 200 square feet and basement space).
All ADUs must be architecturally compatible with the main residence with respect to style, roof pitch, color, and materials.
Two parking space must be provided for an ADU (both attached and detached), with at least one space covered, located out of required Front Yard setbacks, and no closer than 10 feet from the street in a Street Side setback.
Can accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”) be rented out?
ADUs may not be rented out for periods less than 30 days and may not be sold separately from primary residence.
Property owner must occupy either the ADU or main residence, unless both units are rented to the same tenant; sub-leasing is prohibited.
What is Title 24?
Title 24 is the state’s energy efficiency standards for buildings in California. In order to obtain building permits, California requires Title 24 energy calculation and compliance report.
The 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for newly constructed residential buildings includes a rst-in-the-nation requirement to install solar photovoltaic systems. Other features enable homes to reduce the electricity demand from the grid, helping to reduce energy bills and the carbon footprint.
What is CALGreen?
CALGreen is California’s first green building code and first in the nation state-mandated green building code. It is formally known as the California Green Building Standards Code, Title 24, Part 11, of the California Code of Regulations.
The purpose of CALGreen is to improve public health, safety, and general welfare through enhanced design and construction of buildings using concepts which reduce negative impacts and promote those principles which have a positive environmental impact and encourage sustainable construction practices.
CALGreen applies to the planning, design, operation, construction, use, and occupancy of every newly-constructed building or structure on a statewide basis unless otherwise indicated. Additions and alterations to existing buildings which increase the building’s conditioned area, interior volume, or size are also covered by the scope of CALGreen.
What type of trees are ‘Protected’ in Palo Alto?
The Regulated Trees of Palo Alto refer to all those trees or groups of trees included in the following three categories: 1) Protected Trees, 2) Street Trees and 3) Designated Trees. There are city regulations regarding maintaining the health of or removal of these trees required by Palo Alto Municipal Code, Title 8, Trees and Vegetation.
Category 1 -Protected Trees:
All Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata trees that are 11.5-inches or greater in diameter (36-inches in circumference measured at 54-inches above natural grade) and Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens trees that are 18-inches or greater in diameter (57-inches in circumference measured at 54-inches above natural grade) and Heritage Trees, individual trees of any size or species designated as such by City Council. Property owners may nominate a tree that has distinctive characteristics such as being of great age or size, unique form or other historical significance. A list of designated heritage trees is kept at the Planning Division offices or can be accessed at: Tree Program_Heritage Trees.
Do I need a permit to prune one of the protected trees on my property?
No. But it should be pruned so that the health, balance and shape of the tree are not negatively altered.
In which cases may I be allowed to remove a protected tree located on a single-family residential lot?
A permit must be issued from the Planning Division to legally remove a Protected Tree and must meet certain findings based on the conditions. These findings are listed in detail in PAMC 8.10.050 and described again in Section 3.00, Removal, Replacement and Planting of Trees, of the Tree Technical Manual.
Where can I find more information about a tree on my property, or City tree near my property?
Visit the Public Works urban forestry web page.