Building Codes Bureau

What is a Building Permit and What Good Does it Do? | Is a State Building Permit Needed?

Frequently Asked Questions
about building permits

Do I need a Building Permit for a single family dwelling?

A building permit is not required for a single family residence, unless you live inside a local government's jurisdiction, which requires the permit by ordinance or resolution.

Why do I need a building permit?

The purpose of a building permit, plan review and inspection is to insure that the building is structurally sound and is not a hazard to the health and welfare of its occupants. While no one would intentionally build a structure which would do harm to an individual, there are standards established which lower the chances of someone being injured. These standards make up the Building Code.

When is a state building permit required?

A state building permit is required for any non-exempt building being built, remodeled, moved, or undergoing a change of occupancy, except for projects located within the jurisdictional limits of a local government program.


How do I apply for a building permit?

The building permit is applied for by completing and submitting the application for a building permit to the BUREAU.

Is any project exempt from the state building permit process?

Yes, projects which are exempt from the building permit process (at the state level) include:

1. Farm or ranch buildings.

2. Private homes and apartments with four or fewer units that do not serve transient guests.

3. Petroleum refineries and pulp and paper mills (except office and shop buildings).

4. Mine buildings on the mine site and regulated under Title 82, Chapter 4, MCA.

5. Private storage buildings and garages.

Additional work may also be exempt from a building permit and an inquiry to the BUREAU may be required to determine whether a building permit is required.

It is also advisable to check with your local county and city government agencies to see if additional local requirements apply.

Can I build a private garage or storage building on my commercial lot without a building permit, if it is for my own use?

Private garage or storage buildings are exempt from building permits.

A private garage is a building or a portion of a building in which only motor vehicles used by the tenants of the building or buildings on the premises are stored or kept. A building in which vehicles are repaired or stored as part of commercial enterprise or business, even if on the premises of a dwelling, is not a private garage.

A private storage structure used only for the owner's own use is a building used for storage of personal effects of the owner and not used for storage of equipment, vehicles, materials, supplies or products used in a commercial enterprise or business.

I called the County and was told I didn't need any permits to build my building. Now I find out I need a state permit. Why isn't this process coordinated?

The BUREAU is constantly informing all agencies, including local government officials, of the requirements for state permits. However, the BUREAU is unable to control the response to a question that a county employee may give you. In addition, the question you asked may not have provided enough information to provide you with the appropriate guidance you require.

Am I within an area covered by a local jurisdiction?

The easiest way to determine if you are within a local jurisdiction is to look in the telephone book under either the city or county government section for an entry for the number of the local building department. Consultation with the local building department will help in determining if the particular site is within the limits of the local jurisdiction. The BUREAU in Helena may also be contacted to help you decide who is the authority having jurisdiction for the particular site.

Who is responsible for application for a building permit?

The owner is the party responsible for the application for a building permit. The owner may rely upon the expertise of the contractor and/or the designer to complete the application process. Also, since it is a violation of state law to "build" a building without a building permit, the builder (contractor) is also responsible for assuring that a building permit has been obtained before construction is started.

The building official may also request that a professional engineer/architect be retained if there appear to be complications regarding the design of the building.

This representation is for compliance with the IBC and BUREAU rules only and is not intended to address when a licensed engineer or architect must be used for design services based on state licensing laws.

When is a design professional (engineer/architect) required?

Design professionals, which include both architects and engineers, play an important role in the code enforcement/compliance process. The designs and analysis provided by these professionals is a valuable tool to the Bureau’s plan review and inspection staff in determining whether compliance with the state adopted building code has been met. The main objective of the Bureau is the building’s compliance with the code and therefore providing a level of safety to the building’s owners, employees and members of the public who work in or use the building.

Under many circumstances the state adopted building code requires the building permit applicant to submit drawings and/or analysis from a Montana licensed design professional in order to be in compliance with some provisions of the code. The building official will determine when the use of a design professional is required. Generally a Montana licensed design professional is required for:

  1. Buildings that are publicly owned
  2. Buildings that do not meet the conventional light-frame construction provisions of the code.
  3. Buildings where the footing or foundation system does not comply with the building code or if the footing/foundation system is less than three (3) feet from the bottom of the footing to grade for single story buildings or four (4) feet for multistory buildings.
  4. Buildings that are subject to moderate to severe snow and/or seismic environmental loads requiring engineering analysis.
  5. Fire protection system design concept adequate for shop drawing preparation by others.
  6. Buildings or submitted drawings of buildings where the building official determines additional design or analysis by a Montana licensed design professional is required due to complications regarding the submitted design of the building.

 In addition to providing crucial information in the code compliance process many other advantages are available to owners who choose to utilize a design professional for their project. Reduced permitting time, cost savings resulting from efficient space planning and/or appropriate sizing or use of materials and clear, concise presentation of the project through drawings and specifications resulting in more efficient bidding from contractors are some of the possible additional advantages of utilizing a design professional for your project.

This representation is for compliance with the state adopted building code and Bureau rules only and is not intended to address when a licensed engineer or architect must be used for design services based on state licensing laws.

For additional information on design professionals you can contact the Board of Architects or the Board of Professional Landsurveyors and Professional Engineers

What is required for a description of the project and building use or occupancy?

The description of the project should include a brief statement as to the nature of the construction and the intended use of the building. For example: The building to be built will be 36'x100' of wood frame construction to be used as a warehouse for manhole covers.

What type of plans need to be submitted with the application for a building permit?

Plans to be included with the application are as follows:

1. A site plan showing the property lines containing the proposed building site, the location of the proposed building and any other buildings on the same property, dimensions of all buildings on the property and dimensions from the proposed building to other buildings and to the property lines. The site plan should also show the location of any established streets, alleys or other public means of access next to the property.

site plan graphic

2. A dimensioned floor plan should show the interior and exterior walls, opening location and size, operating windows, door swings, door hardware, room or area uses, exit sign locations, and handicapped toilet rooms. In addition, the floor plan should identify the use of each room or area of the building, with a list of materials or supplies to be used or stored, and a description of any product to be manufactured or service to be performed.

floor plan graphic

3. Cross-section drawings should show the building from the bottom of the footing to the roof. Cross-section drawings should also show attachment of the building to the foundation, attachment of the roof to the walls and any other attachments that may be used in the building. Construction materials, including size and spacing used, should be shown on the cross-section drawing.
(click on image to get a larger version for printing)

exterior wall graphic

4. Elevation drawings should show the height of the building and all exterior details such as overhangs. The elevation drawings for symmetrical buildings may be 2 simple views (front & side). However, more complicated structures may require all 4 views.

5. Submitted roof truss diagrams must bear the seal of a registered professional engineer, licensed to practice in the State of Montana. It is advisable to use manufactured roof trusses where possible.

6. Building insulation "R" values should be shown on either the floor plan or the cross section drawing.

Plans must be drawn straight line and to scale and be submitted on substantial paper. Please indicate "north" on all drawings submitted for plan review.

What degree of detail is required for submitted plans?

Plans submitted for the approval process shall contain sufficient detail as to allow construction of the structure using only the submitted documents and be sufficient to determine compliance.

What is required for accessibility by persons with disabilities?

The owner of a building that serves the public is responsible for providing an accessible route from the "public way" (street, public parking lot, public sidewalk, etc.) to the interior of the building. Buildings require an accessible route within the building to the primary function areas and accessible restrooms. Small business owners should check into the Disabled Access Tax Credit (Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, Section 44) to determine if they are eligible for a tax credit. The BUREAU is able to provide the necessary information concerning accessibility.

disabled restroom specs

What fees are required for a building permit?

The fee for a Building Permit will be calculated by the BUREAU and is generally 1 % to 2 % of the building valuation. The fee for a building permit is based on the valuation of the building and includes all construction work (i.e. finish work, painting, roofing, electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, elevators, fire-extinguishing systems and any per permanent equipment). A licensed architect or engineer may provide the estimated cost or the valuation is calculated by using the "Building Valuation Data" table, published by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO). In some cases, specific contract bids may be used to determine the fees. This "valuation" is used only for purposes of calculating the necessary building permit fees and is not used for property tax or other purposes.

What is involved in the plan review process, and how long will it take for my building permit to be issued?

The plan review process begins when the plans and application are received in the office. The plan reviewer then calculates the valuation of the building and the necessary permit fees and screens the plans to determine if the plans, as submitted, are sufficient to do a plan review. After payment of the plan review portion of the fee, the plan reviewer examines the plans in detail for compliance with the building code and will contact the owner and/or designer regarding the deficiencies and will work toward a solution of the deficiencies and/or problems. Once the plans fully comply with the building code and the permit fee has been paid in full, a building permit is issued. This process may take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks depending upon the BUREAU'S work load, the size of the project and the number of items that must be modified to address the deficiencies noted on the plan review.

Will I be able to start construction before a building permit is issued?

The Building Code prohibits starting construction without a building permit. However, considering the short window of construction weather in Montana, special arrangements may be made with the BUREAU to allow some projects to start footings/foundation work before the permit is issued. The owner of the structure must be aware that any work performed prior to the issuance of the building permit, which does not comply with the provisions of the currently adopted building code, may be required to be modified or replaced to comply with the building code.

What other permits may be required?

Separate permits are required for electrical, plumbing and mechanical work.
Permit applications.

What should I do with a "Notice of Violation"?

When a NOTICE OF VIOLATION AND ORDER TO COMPLY (NOV) is issued, the owner is required to comply with the instructions listed on the notice. This usually involves applying for a building permit and correcting code violations. The issuance of a NOV for construction without a building permit may result in the assessment of an investigation fee, which is equal and in addition to the building fee. It is very important to respond to the BUREAU in writing within the designated time period listed on the NOV even if you do not have all of the required information to submit.

How do I contact the inspector for my project?

During the plan review process you will be provided with the name and phone number of the inspector who will be responsible for the inspection of your building.

What is a snow load and why do I need to know what it is?

The snow load for your area is established to determine the design load of your roof so it will support the maximum projected snow load (weight of snow) that may be on the roof of your building. Your roof must be designed to support the projected snow load for your area plus other pertinent loads. To obtain the snow load for your area, call your local building department or, if in the BUREAU'S jurisdiction, call the BUREAU prior to ordering your manufactured trusses.

Who writes the Building Code?

The Building Code is not written by an individual, but is the culmination of years of research into failures, disasters and accidents that have occurred throughout the world. Building codes are merely minimum construction standards developed over the years that are intended to save lives and protect property from the hazards inherent in building construction. The International Building Code (IBC) is published by the International Code Council (ICC).