Are Building Permits Public Record?

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

Depending on the project, there may or may not be the requirement for building permits. These permits are issued by the local municipality and are essentially permission to construct a certain structure or establishment.

Yes, building permits are of public record. Obtaining them is relatively easy though it can vary from municipality to municipality. You will need to know the information you’re looking for whether it’s by business or personal name.

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What Are Building Permit Records?

Generally speaking, building permit records will be made up of a variety of construction information that is linked to a specific building or perhaps an address where a structure once stood. The point of these records is to list any data on the specific type of work that was performed on that building or at that address.

The building permits include things like the contractor and owner name, the date of issuance, and the date that construction finished.

The building department of each municipality keeps a record of every single building permit that they issue. They do this for both tracking purposes as well as future reference.

Each Individual Municipality Follows A Specific Building Code

They also have their own rules set forth regarding the different types of construction that would require a building permit. Additionally, some types of construction require a submission of blueprints during the application process for a building permit.

When the permit is finally issued, the municipality creates a building permit record; these are public record and can be attained by anyone who wants to see it.

How Do You Find Building Permit Records?

Despite the fact that building permits are public record and accessible to anyone, they might not be quite so easy to obtain. Be aware that some municipalities aren’t exactly caught up from a technological standpoint, so getting the records online can be difficult.

Even those found online are not always searchable by address or owner. More often than not, the building permits are presented as either an Excel or PDF document that get grouped by month or year. There are times where they can even be grouped by week.

If you’re after a specific address, you may have a substantially more difficult time. You’ll have to download one of those documents that go based on time period and search through each of them for a specific address.

Online Searching

More often than not, local municipalities will have a website set up to handle public records. Digital formatting makes it so that users can get their own documents at any time without actually having to visit the municipality in person.

There are two different ways of searching online that you need to be aware of. No matter how you slice it, performing online searches for building permits is the most effective and fastest way to do things.

Local Municipality Building Department Website

Whatever your local municipality, there will be a separate building department website or at least a separate section of the local municipality website. This is the best place to start if you are looking to gain access to building permits that are currently in public records.

Keep in mind that the municipality isn’t always the one issuing the permits. By starting here, you will find out information on just who did the issuing. It could be the county office that retains and processes those building permits, so don’t be surprised if this is the case.

When you find out who is in charge of the local building permits, you can check their website to see if they have a searchable database. Checking the website makes for the easiest route, though you may have to download the aforementioned PDF or Excel documents.

National GIS of Building Plans and Construction Information

There is a growing national database for building permits records regarding construction information. This is another completely free service that you can search. You will likely have to create a user account first, but when you do, you can begin to search for the specific address you had in mind.

Anything that has been published to the website is accessible there. In some cases, you can even find building plans or blueprints attached to that address. These can be valuable pieces of information depending on what you’re trying to do.

In the instance that there isn’t any construction data available, there are address inquiry forms that can be filled out. The staff will look into your request and get back to you if they manage to find out any information regarding that address.


Before online searches, there was only one way to do things: in person. The main difference, aside from the fact that you have to go into a physical building, is that you are entirely dependent on the staff at the physical site to do the searching.

Local Building Department

If you decide that in-person is better than online (or simply don’t want to deal with searching through large Excel or PDF files), you can always go to your local Building Department. At the clerk’s desk, they should be able to assist you in finding the building permits for your specific address.

This can sometimes be beneficial. The clerks are familiar with the system and can get to specific information quicker and more accurately. When they’ve found your address, they can print off a report containing all of the information that is required.

Keep in mind that you might have to fill out an FOIA request depending on your municipality. Even with that additional step, your local building department should be able to provide you with the information that you are looking to obtain.

Talk to the Contractor

When looking for building permits, sometimes the best place to start is with the contractor who handled the project. The local building department may even be able to give you the name of the contractor in question. The contractor name should be included in the building permit records.

AEC contractors will also retain their building permit records for each of their projects. That provides another avenue to obtain the documentation that you need.

What Do You Do With Permit Records?

During the construction project on your address, make note of the contractors that work on or manage the home. This way, if something needs maintenance or breaks, you can reach out to them for a potential fix.

If you hire a new contractor, it can be beneficial to them to know who did the prior work. This provides essential details related to the project.

By providing the building permit report, you can give the new contractors the kind of valuable information that results in saved time and money.

The blueprints, if they come with the building report, can be just as valuable as anything else. This is essentially the DNA of your building. The blueprints can divulge important information about any maintenance, repair, improvements, or additional projects related to the original construction.

If you anticipate any maintenance or construction on your current address in the near future, having access to the building plans can be valuable to the upcoming project. With all of the different avenues for obtaining the information, there is no excuse for not having the building permit records at your disposal.

Who Pays For Building Permits?

Permits are generally required for jobs that involve HVAC, plumbing, or electrical work, and structural alterations to the home. The requirements and fees for permits will vary based on the city and state where the project takes place.

When you hire a contractor for a job, the cost of permits will generally be included in their bid. Regardless, the contractor should be the one who obtains and pays for the permit. In fact, if your contractor doesn’t agree to pull building permits directly, this could be a red flag.

You are paying your contractor a substantial amount of money for their services, and this includes securing permits. Avoid issuing permits in your own name, as this could present issues down the line when an inspector seeks answers about your home improvement project.

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Related Questions

How do building permit records relate to building blueprints?

The blueprints, or building plans, are crucial to any maintenance, improvement, addition, or repair projects. Possessing a copy of the blueprints is important to any building manager or owner. Locating building permit records is the first step to finding the building plans or blueprints of the building.

Where can I find the original blueprints of my home?

There are a number of ways that you can attempt to locate the original building plans of your home. First, try checking with your local government. Many city and county governments have websites that are dedicated to property records or you can try calling your local clerk’s office. The other option is to contact the builder of your home to request the building plans.

Are building plans public record in California?

Most blueprints in the state of California are preserved digitally or on microfilm and are available for public viewing.

Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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