What are Entitlements?


Usually, before any commercial or large-scale construction project kicks off, a due diligence report is completed. A due diligence report uncovers all the zoning and construction requirements and restrictions for a plot of land, approval timelines and anticipated fees.

If what you’re legally allowed to build does not align with what you have planned, you may be required to request an entitlement. 

Entitlements are secured legal permissions from local regulatory bodies (typically in the form of permits but sometimes in the form of rezoning or planned unit developments). They “entitle” the owner or developer to enjoy the full legal use of the land for the proposed purpose. 


When Do You Need To Get an Entitlement?

Entitlements need to be secured before the start of construction. If an entitlement is required, no building permits will be approved until the entitlement is issued. 

Starting construction before obtaining an entitlement (or permit, for that matter) is risky. If your entitlement is not approved, you may be required to redo or tear down parts of your project. 


Who Issues Entitlements?

Entitlements are usually managed by the local jurisdiction, specifically city or county governments. This may involve several departments depending on the type of entitlement you’re applying for. 


How Do You Apply for an Entitlement?

Every jurisdiction is slightly different, but most jurisdictions outline their application process online and detail the type of documentation and signatures required. 

You, as the project owner, will be required to submit a completed application, which will include jurisdiction forms, project documentation and stakeholder signatures (specifically, if you are renting or leasing the space). 

Once the application is submitted, it will be reviewed by the required departments. At some point, you may be asked to appear before the City Council to explain why changing the laws to suit your needs will benefit the local community. 

In addition, for certain entitlements, the public will get an opportunity to voice their concerns or objections. A designated time frame for objections will be defined and the public will be notified of the proposed updates. 

If you overcome these hurdles, your entitlement request is either approved or denied. If denied, there is usually an opportunity to file an appeal.

If your entitlement is awarded, you or your permit expeditor can begin the permit application process. 


Common Entitlement Scenarios

Some of the most common situations where entitlements are needed include: 

  • Zone Changes: Property zoning dictates what you can and cannot do with your land. If the location you’ve chosen for your business is zoned as residential or for a different commercial use (e.g., restaurant), it may need to be rezoned.
  • Variance: A variance is a request to use the location in a way that differs from the established zoning ordinance. If approved, it legally waives certain zoning requirements for your business. Common variances include: number of parking spaces, building height, and building setback.
  • Use Permit: When your plans require special conditions to be compatible with the surrounding land use regulations, you may need a Use Permit. Often local jurisdictions require a discretionary permit, such as a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), with defined conditions that will regulate the business. Liquor licenses are a good example of this.

The following is a list of other common situations where entitlements may be required:

  • Signage
  • Tentative Tract Maps
  • Final Tract Maps
  • Beer and Wine Permits
  • Change of Use
  • Design Review/Planning Commission
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Code Compliance
  • Variances

As mentioned earlier, knowing when and if you need an entitlement starts with understanding the local jurisdictions rules and regulations. All of the challenges you’ll face can be uncovered through a due diligence report. 

If you need help building a due diligence report or want support submitting for an entitlement, our team of experience can advise or help manage the entire process.

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