Permit Wars 2 — or “Gimme 3 Steps Mister"

Lynyrd Skynyrd sings a song, “Gimme Three Steps”. It is the narrative of a man dancing in a bar, confronted by his partner’s husband, who is armed and displeased. A famous line in it was evocative of the human condition: caught in a bad spot and desperately seeking escape. It went, “Wontcha gimme three steps, mister, Gimme three steps mister, Gimme three steps towards the door?” We sometimes feel like this when confronted by demands by local officials in repair and remodeling projects.

Songwriters pen many truths, but we’ll need to dig a little in order to understand what’s required in order to meet the codes, so let’s examine the second of our occasional tales that we call the “Permit Wars!"

In a conversation, we heard comments of an industry professional who buys residential properties, improves them, and then re-sells for a profit. This re-developer, or “flipper”, claimed that, by keeping small portions of an existing structure partially standing, one might have it treated as a “renovation”, and thus shorten or even by-pass the permitting process (somehow). It was stated, “If you leave three studs standing, they ‘have to’ give you a repair permit, and you don’t need drawings.” Really? According to the City of Atlanta Building Department, this is not the case, though perhaps it’s true of code enforcement in other cities. Please let us know your experiences!

Where does a rumor like this originate? Well, it may come from a misunderstanding of the so-called “General Repairs” permit. Though handled in various ways by various municipalities, the City of Atlanta codifies this type of permit in very specific detail. Misinterpretation of this rule may result from confusing part of the General Repairs guidelines issued by the city. Here’s what it says:

“Maximum of three sheets of drywall to repair existing holes in ceilings and/or walls.”

It also stipulates that no structural repairs whatever are allowed under a General Repairs Permit, so replacement of studs and plates in bearing walls would not be permitted under this category. It applies strictly to detached, single family houses and duplexes, not to condos, townhomes, or commercial buildings, and cannot exceed $25,000 in the cost of the work. The permit department indicates it “may require floor plan” for replacement of windows — we’re guessing this may be due to things like emergency escape size and safety glass requirements for bathrooms. More detailed stipulations can be found in a pdf document on the city’s website.

Maybe we should re-write the last line of that song as, “Gimme 3 sheets mister, Gimme 3 sheets mister, and you’ll never see me no more!"

The city’s guidelines are among the clearest in our region, especially for detached residential, and its reviewers follow them with reasonable consistency. Consumers and industry professionals alike want fairness, clarity, and consistency, so we can meet code requirements and document them accurately for the authorities having jurisdiction.

We’re interested in your experiences with any local municipality. Please contact us through the contact page on our website.

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We want to be considered for your future design projects, whether new construction, alteration & addition, renovation, adaptive reuse, or fire repair. We tailor our scope of work to the appropriate set of drawings to meet your city’s requirements and sail through the permitting process more smoothly. We also use a CAD-BIM program that generates plans, elevations and sections quickly and allows us to offer our clients great efficiency.

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