In the City of San Jose, building permits for retail construction projects are reviewed and awarded by Development Services.
As with any jurisdiction, the City of San Jose has its own systems and processes for awarding permits, and the process varies by the location, size and complexity of your project.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve processed hundreds of permits for retail stores opening all around San Jose, specifically in Valley Fair and Oakridge malls.
We’ve taken our years of experience and consolidated much of it into this free resource. We’ve outlined the whole process along with what you need to know about fees, timelines and application packages.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a clear understanding of your responsibilities as a tenant and how to get started. So let’s get into it.
If you have any questions or need any help, please let us know.
President, Permit Place
What Parties Are Involved In Retail Construction & Permitting?
Generally speaking, there are three parties involved in the retail construction and permitting process—The tenant, the landlord, and the agency who has jurisdiction over the location.
Let’s discuss each one and their responsibilities.
As the store owner, this is you. And, you are the one ultimately responsible for applying for and obtaining building permits. While your contractors and architects will be there to help, you’re the quarterback in this scenario and the one at fault if your construction does not comply with established building codes.
If you’re renting your retail space, the landlord is the owner of the building. Typically, they do not get involved in the permitting process with the exception of larger projects, like anchor tenants.
That said, they do need to approve and stamp tenant improvement plans. Landlord signoff is required before the City of San Diego can approve your permits.
In addition, your landlord can provide you with:
- As-Built Drawings: These blueprints of the space represent what building structures exist now. Your architect will need these drawings to develop plans for your new space. It’s these new plans that will be submitted for permit approval.
- Master Sign Program (MSP): This document outlines the jurisdiction-approved placement and specifications of store signage. Your proposed signs will be checked against the MSP.
Proper zoning is important when opening a retail store. In most cases, if you’re opening in an established retail location (e.g., mall, shopping center, former retail establishment), you’re likely already zoned properly.
However, it is important to verify with the local jurisdiction that this is the case before you begin the permit process. If not properly zoned, you’ll need to request an entitlement which can add costs and time.
The City of San Jose offers a Zoning Map you can reference for free. This online tool enables you to research your location address for zoning information.
3. City or County Jurisdiction
In San Jose, the governmental department you’ll be working with is Development Services. Development Services oversees the review, permitting, inspection and code enforcement for the City of San Jose.
Know Your Jurisdiction
4. Permit Expediter
For San Jose permitting, the above are the three parties that must be involved. That said, we wanted to introduce a fourth.
San Jose Permit Expeditors can take ownership of and manage the entire permitting process on your behalf. They can coordinate details between you, your development team, landlords and the City of San Jose.
A permit expediter simplifies the process of applying for permit approval, allowing tenants to concentrate on the million other things you have going on. With a permit expediters knowledge of the local building codes and Development Services personnel relationships, they can:
- Perform due diligence on the location and existing building.
- Ensure your initial permit application is complete and packaged in a way that avoids common pitfalls.
- Proactively monitor the progress of your permit application.
- Advise on how to reply to comments and requested plan changes.
- Coordinate details across all involved parties to keep everyone informed.
- Pull and distribute permits to expedite the start of construction.
- Consult on what to do and how to handle inspections.
What Other Departments Are Involved In Permitting?
In San Jose, the main group you’ll be working with is the City of San Jose Development Services.
However, certain types of projects may require other departments to get involved:
- Serving Food? If so, the County of Santa Clara Department of Environmental Health oversees health permits. They’ll be evaluating building materials, surface materials, equipment, equipment installation, and ventilation systems when food is involved.
- Changing the Floor Plan or Fire Systems? The City of San Jose Fire Department issues permits and performs site inspections related to fire sprinkler systems, escape paths and more.
- Updating the Exterior? If your location is not properly zoned or wants to complete some project that goes against established code, you’ll need to work with County of San Jose Department of Planning and Development
What San Jose Retail Permits Will I Need?
The San Jose retail permits you’ll need depend on the type of retail store you are opening and what type of construction is being completed.
Some of the more common construction projects that trigger the need for a permit include:
- Constructing new retail storefronts, particularly where structural work or alterations like replacing existing doors, windows, etc. are involved.
- Accessibility compliance for access to the building.
- Installing signage requires a permit unless you’re working within the confines of the retail center’s Master Sign Plan (MSP).
- Altering the interior layout of the space, such as knocking down demising or interior walls, putting up new walls, or changing the space’s overall layout.
- Rerouting fire sprinklers or alarms will require working with the fire department.
- Changing plumbing, electrical, or other mechanical systems, such as HVAC.
- Updating the exterior with a new roof, drains, guttering, and rooftop HVAC units.
- Installing storage racks over 5 ft. 9 in. As part of this, you’ll need to show a floor plan, structural plans, and calculations for the rack’s construction.
What Documents Do I Need For A San Jose Retail Building Permit?
For building permit submittals, you’ll be required to submit a PDF set of drawings that meet the following requirements:
- Landlord approved — If you don’t own the building, your landlord should send you stamped “FOR PERMITTING” approved drawings of your space.
- Formatted to be full size — minimum 18”x24” and maximum 24”x36”.
- Digital stamp and signature on every page.
- Title 24 forms imaged into plan set, in appropriate trade sections (Mechanical with Mechanical sheets, Electrical with Electrical sheets).
- Accessibility compliance form imaged on a cover sheet (not a separate attachment).
- PDF set of applicable calculations or attachments.
If your project requires a health permit, the health permit will need to be approved before the final building approval. You can submit for health permits while waiting for building comments so both comments arrive around the same time. However, you cannot resubmit building permits until you have the final health approval.
To submit for health permits, you’ll need:
- One complete set of plans drawn at scale—minimum 18”x24” maximum 24”x36”.
- Sheet index of all major plan components and a scope of work.
- Vicinity layout, including building location and major cross streets.
- General floor plan of the entire facility.
- A completed application.
- Review the Food Facility Plan Submittal Checklist to confirm compliance with all requirements. If so, complete the top portions.
- Copy of menu and equipment manual
- Plan check fees
To expedite the review, an additional fee of $493 will be due when Santa Clara County approves the expedited request. This can be paid by credit card online.
Exterior Work Permits
If exterior work is required as part of the project, you will have to provide a separate submittal with the items listed below. This is common if you need to install a new rooftop unit or complete exterior facade updates to street-facing store fronts.
- PDF drawings showing the site plan and elevations. If applicable, include a roof plan for equipment showing the dimensions between equipment and parapet, and elevations showing the height of the parapets.
- Photos of what is existing and elevations of what is proposed.
- A completed minor adjustment application.
The initial application fee is $302 and must be paid before your application is reviewed. From there fees are based on hourly rates:
- Minor adjustments: $359/hour
- Major adjustments (with plan intake): $987/hour with $359 per additional hour and $89 per additional quarter hour.
What Are The Steps Of The San Jose Retail Permitting Process?
The permitting process in San Jose is not too dissimilar from most other jurisdictions in California and around the country. That said, there are some nuances you’ll need to be aware of.
For example, all permits, including mechanical, plumbing, etc., are approved at once, instead of independently. This can have an effect on how and when construction starts.
Here’s a simplified order of operations during the retail permitting process.
- Get entitlements (if required) – If you’re opening in an established retail location (e.g., mall, shopping center, existing retail space), this step isn’t necessary. In most cases, the space is already zoned for commercial use, signage parameters are established, and you likely aren’t serving alcohol. That said, every situation is different, especially for new construction of standalone stores. A due diligence report is recommended to help side step or account for any hurdles that may cause delays or extra budget.
- Submit your plans to City of San Jose – Work with a landlord, contractor and architect to create a set of plans to define the type of construction being completed. Then, you’ll submit these plans along with other relevant documentation to the City of San Jose for review.
- Get a Sign Pre-Inspection. If installing new signage that falls outside of a landlord’s master sign agreement, you’ll need pre-inspection of the site by the City to determine if your sign is within code.
- Submit for plan review – The City of San Jose plan check office will review your plans, drawings and other documentation to ensure it aligns with established building codes and that there are no questions about what you’re planning to do.
- Get correction requests & comments – In many cases, plans get sent back with correction requests and comments. This is to be expected and accounted for in your timelines.
- Make corrections & resubmit – You and your team will need to adjust your plans based on the requests and comments made by the City of San Jose. Once complete, resubmit the plans, which will be reviewed again.
Don’t Make Them Ask You Twice
Plan check professionals do not like to ask you twice to make the same updates. Comply with what is asked unless you have a viable reason for leaving things as is, in which case, make sure to explain your reasoning.
- Get your letter of approval – Once approved by the City of San Jose, you’ll receive a letter of approval granting you permission to begin your construction project.
- Obtain your building permits – Building permits are issued shortly after the approval letter is received. This is the official go-ahead to begin construction on the space. Early-start permits can be granted in some situations, enabling you to start constructing the space before official permits are approved.
San Jose Retail Permit Timing
One way the City of San Jose varies from other jurisdictions, for example Los Angeles, is you submit one application for all your required permits, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc. Each department then reviews your application and issues their permit approval or comments, and then you receive either comments or permit approval.
One application simplifies the initial steps of the process because you don’t need to file different applications with each department.
However, before any part of your building permit can be issued, every part of your application must be approved. In cities like LA, once your mechanical permit is approved you can go and pull that permit to get started on the mechanical construction, even if the plumbing permit requires comments or corrections.
In San Jose, everything needs to be fully approved before you can pull any permits, eliminating the chance of a phased start.
As a result, it is very important that your permit application be as complete and accurate as possible in all phases to avoid minor corrections holding up your entire project.
How Long Does It Take To Get A San Jose Retail Permit?
The permitting timeline depends on if you’re doing the standard plan check, expedited plan review or online plan checks.
A standard permit submittal is currently taking between six and eight months, give or take. Like everyone, the City of San Jose is short staffed, which is pushing back the review and approval timetable.
Combine staffing shortages with the ebb and flow of demand and the complexity of your project, and it’s difficult to come up with a reliable timetable to base your construction schedules on.
The City of San Jose also offers Expedited Plan Reviews, which can speed up approvals. These are only available for certain types of projects. Application submission to permit approval typically takes 3 months.
For some simple projects, the City of San Jose also offers online permits. SJPermits.org enables you to download a building permit for projects that don’t need plan review or where plans are reviewed at the time of inspection. Check here to see if your project is eligible for online review.
The approval timeline is also contingent on how quickly your architects can turn around requested changes or reply to comments. This can vary by the architect and is based in part on the significance of the updates.
Negotiate Your Rent Start Date
Because permit approvals in San Jose can take three months or more, it’s a good idea to talk to your landlord about paying rent after permits are issued.
This move may help you save thousands in operating costs before you even have a chance to begin construction.
How Much Does A Retail Permit Cost In San Jose?
The City of San Jose’s permitting fees are notoriously more expensive than other jurisdictions in California. There are a number of factors that determine your final fees.
The City of San Jose offers a Permit Cost Estimate Worksheet, which enables you to request an estimate of the building permit fees associated with your project. If you’re in the planning phase, we recommend sending in this worksheet with as much information as possible.
Cost of Construction
The biggest determining factor is cost of construction. San Jose charges a 3 percent tax on the cost of construction, which is relatively high compared to other jurisdictions. So, if construction valuation is $1,000,000, you may be paying $30,000 in permitting fees.
Scope of work
Generally speaking, the more complex your construction project, the more it will cost to obtain a permit. It all comes down to how much time and expertise is required by the City of San Jose Development Services to review and approve your project.
Small tenant improvement projects are pretty quick and easy. New construction with solar panels and an expanded parking lot involves more departments and requires more time.
Generally speaking, a larger footprint translates to larger fees. The bigger the space, the more factors that need to be considered from a safety perspective. So, if you’re opening a 10,000 square foot retail space, you can expect to pay more than a new 1,000 square foot space.
When Will I Have To Pay For My Permits?
The timing of when your fees are due depends on the type of plan check review.
- For standard plan checks, part of the application fees are due prior to the start of the review process. The remainder of the balance is due upon completion.
- For Expedited Plan Reviews, you pay your fees at the end of the process, prior to issuance of your permits.
San Jose Retail Permit Application Forms and Documents
Below are the important documents you’ll need to complete as part of your application. These are City of San Jose documents, which we are linking to for convenience. The City of San Jose may change their required application documents without our knowledge, so please don’t use this as a definitive list.
- Accessibility Compliance Form
- Special Inspection Form
- CALGreen Forms
- San Jose City Directive on Multiple Designers
- Planning/Permit Adjustment
- Health Application
- Health Submittal Checklist
- San Jose Building Application
- Industrial Use Designation Form
- Construction Valuation Document
- Early Start/Notice of Intent to Rough Frame
Need Help? Work With A Permit Expediter
Permit Place is a national permit expediting firm, with a dedicated team in San Jose. From a retail perspective, we’ve expedited hundreds of retail permit applications thanks in part to being the recommended expeditors for Westfield’s Valley Fair and Oakridge Malls.
We can help you get your permits faster, break ground on your project sooner, and focus on building a better business – rather than spending hours filling out paperwork and submitting plans to the City of San Jose.
Interested in learning more? Contact us online to schedule an appointment with one of our permit specialists in San Jose and see how we can help you get the retail permits you need.
Common First Round Plan Check Comments
To help you put your best foot forward with your first submittal, below is a list of typical first round comments that pop up on San Jose retail applications. By preparing for these updates in advance, you may be able to avoid costly delays.