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Do I need a Permit to Do This? – Santa Cruz County Edition

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When you make a modification to your property it’s important to understand the permitting requirements. While a licensed contractor will often know if a permit is needed, ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure that all necessary permits were obtained for the work done. In certain cases, no permit is required, but Building Code laws rules varying from city to city and so the safest course of action is to inquire with your local planning or building department before starting work. 

Below, we’ve compiled resources that you can use to determine if a permit will be required for a given project. However, please take caution: laws often change, and your safest option is to call your local planning department and ask whether a permit will be required or not. 

County of Santa Cruz

If you live in an unincorporated area of Santa Cruz, this webpage will provide guidance as to whether a permit will be required or not. 

City of Capitola

You can find guidance about residential work exempt from building permits here

City of Santa Cruz

If you live in the City of Santa Cruz, you’ll need to contact the planning department directly to determine if a permit will be required. You can find the contact information here

City of Watsonville

If you live in the City of Watsonville, you’ll need to contact the planning department directly to determine if a permit will be required. You can find the contact information here

City of Scotts Valley

If you live in the City of Scotts Valley, you’ll need to contact the building department department directly to determine if a permit will be required. You can find the contact information here

What if I’ve Already Done the Work Without a Permit?

As is the case in many properties in the County of Santa Cruz, it is possible that unpermitted work has already been done in your property, possibly before you purchased it. If this is the case, you may want to consider getting a permit after the fact. Previously, this process entailed ensuring that all work met the current building codes, which could prove to be an arduous process, however a new law has relaxed this requirement. 


With the recent enactment of CA Senate Bill 1226, it has become easier to make a unit legal. In simple terms, SB 1226 allows building officials to recognize an illegal unit as an existing residential building and apply the codes in effect when the building was first built in order to issue a building permit.

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