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Do I Need A Permit To Build A Shed In California? Know Before You Start!

man building a shed

Sheds are convenient and relatively easy to construct, and they can enjoy a wide variety of uses from garden tool storage to workshops. A basic shed does not usually include any electrical or plumbing work, but some of the more complex and typically larger structures can include these features. If you’re looking to erect a shed in your garden, you may need a building permit, according to California law, but, more importantly, you will also need to check requirements for your city, county, and neighborhood.

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California Requirements

According to California requirements, you do not need a permit if the shed you’re building is smaller than 120 square feet and includes no electrical or plumbing work. If the shed is larger than that or includes electrical or plumbing work, you will need to obtain a permit before the shed is installed.

Some parts of the state, like Stockton, for example, require a permit for the building, regardless of its size, placement, or any other factors.

shed construction
Image By: allymime, Pixabay

Shed Placement

Although small, unpowered sheds do not require a building permit in California, it varies according to city and county laws. One area where the rules can differ is regarding the placement of the shed. According to California laws, a shed is a detached building, which means that it cannot form part of the main building.

Some cities dictate how far from the property a shed must be located. Typically, the shed needs to be a minimum of 6 feet from the wall of your home, and there are some parts of a property where a shed cannot be built.

It is also worth noting that having a second or subsequent shed will usually require a permit, even if it is smaller than the permitted size. This is to prevent property owners from getting around permit requirements by simply building a series of smaller buildings.

Shed Size

The 120-foot requirement for a shed in California is also open to interpretation. It only considers floor space and assumes the shed is a single-story. However, in Los Angeles, a shed under 12 feet high and meeting other requirements does not need a permit, Sacramento only allows for buildings up to 9 feet in height.

storage shed in the backyard
Image Credit: Darryl Brooks, Shutterstock

Power and Plumbing

In all cases, if a shed includes power for lighting or sockets, it will need an electrical permit. Similarly, if it has taps or any other kind of plumbing, it requires a plumbing certificate. These certificates need to be applied for in advance and will usually cost around $1,000, which may make building a shed prohibitively expensive.

How Big Is 120 Square Feet?

A 120-square-foot shed is considered a medium-sized building. It provides ample space for tool storage and is big enough for a workspace. If you need to store many tools and have more space, you may need something larger that requires a permit.

Building Without a Permit

If you are in any doubt as to whether you need a building permit, speak to your local planning office, and they will be able to advise you. If you build without a permit and your property is inspected, you could be forced to pull the shed down. You may also be imposed with a fine, and insurance policies that would otherwise cover the shed are unlikely to pay out if the shed is destroyed. You may even have difficulty selling the property in the future without pulling the shed down first.

tool shed in the yard
Image Credit: Blueee77, Shutterstock

What Can I Build Without a Permit In California?

If you’re looking to make improvements to the exterior of your property but do not want to get entangled in building permit applications, there are some projects that you can still undertake.

  • Typically, you can build ground-level decking without a permit but will require one if the deck is more than 30 inches off the ground.
  • You should be able to erect fences and walls around your property, too, but check the height that these can reach before a permit is needed.
  • Treehouses, play equipment, and playhouses do not require permits.
  • Neither do some prefabricated swimming pools, awnings, arbors, and gazebos.

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California has strict building permit requirements, but it allows for the construction of a 120-square-foot shed without a permit as long as it meets local height requirements, does not include any electrical or plumbing work, and is the first shed built on the property. To ensure that you meet building requirements, it is best to check with your local planning authority, especially as the exact requirements vary by city and, in some cases, even by neighborhood.

Featured Image Credit: ronstik, Shutterstock


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