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Building Permit Records: How to Find and Use Permit Records

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What Are Building Permit Records

Building permit records consist of construction information associated with a building or address. These permit records usually list data on the type of work that was performed in a building, contractor and owner name, date issued and completed.

A record of every building permit issued by the building department of a municipality is saved for tracking purposes and future reference. Each municipality follows a building code and has its own rules in regards to what type of construction work needs a building permit. As mentioned in How to Find Blueprints of a Building, certain types of work require contractors to submit blueprints (building plans) when they apply for a building permit. Once a building permit is issued, a building permit record is created by the municipality. These building permits are public records and technically attainable by anyone wanting to view them.

Where Can You Find Building Permit Records for a Specific Address

However, finding building permit records is not always as easy as one might think. Furthermore, not all municipalities are equipped with technology solutions that allow them to display their permit records on their website in digital format. In some cases, the municipality will post their permit records online. But they are not easily searchable by home owners or building owners. These building permit records are most often presented in PDF or Excel format and grouped by month, year, sometimes by week. If you are looking for permit records at a particular address, you will have a hard time finding them. You'll have to download all the PDFs and Excel spreadsheets from each month or week and search each and every one of them for your address.

So how can you find building permit records, should you need them?

Online Searches
As with many other things these days, a digital or online search is ideal. It will be the fastest and most effective way of obtaining building permit records.

  • The Municipality Building Department Website
    Find the Building Department section on your municipality's website. Here you'll find information on who issues building permits in your area. It is not always your municipality that issues building permits. Sometimes it is the county's office that processes and retains building permit records. Once you find out which entity is in charge of building permits in your area:
    • Check their website to see if they have an online searchable database of building permit records
    • Check their website for downloadable documents. If they do have them, they will more than likely list the address of the property. You can download these documents and search for the address you are interested in.
  • The National GIS of Building Plans and Construction Information
    You may find the building permit records you need in this growing national database of construction information. It is a free service and another resource you can check. You can create a free user account and search the database for your address of interest. If building permit records are available, you can obtain them through the system. You may even be able to find blueprints or building plans for your address which could prove more valuable to you. If no construction data is available, you can fill out an address inquiry. Their staff will help you find the information you're looking for.

In-Person Searches
If your online search efforts didn't yield the results you wanted, another option is to continue your building permit records search in person.

  • Your Local Building Department
    Your first in-person stop should be your local Building Department. Once you reach the clerk's desk, ask for building permit records for your address. Sometimes it's as easy as the clerk searching their system and printing a report for you with all the information needed. With other municipalities, they'll have you fill out a FOIA request. Either way, they should provide you with some information.
  • The Contractor Who Constructed the Property
    If the information you receive from the building department is not sufficient, you should at least know now who is the contractor who originally constructed the property. Your local building department should have provided that with their building permit records report. similar to municipalities, AEC contractors also retain building permit records for all their projects.

How Can You Use Permit Records

It's always good to know which AEC firms and contractors worked on your home or building you own or manage. If something breaks or needs maintenance, you may want to contact them for a fix. Or, if you hire a new contractor, knowing who did the work before them could prove to be very beneficial in finding crucial details about the building. You can also save money and time on improvement projects by providing valuable information on previous construction work done on the property. Similarly, if you hire previous contractors, they may even give you a discount on the construction work you need.

How Do Building Permit Records Relate to Blueprints of a Building

As we discuss in How to Find Blueprints of a Building, blueprints or building plans are as important to a building as birth certificates are to people. They hold the DNA of the building and are instrumental in any repair, maintenance, improvement, or addition projects. Therefore, having a copy of the building plans is important to any building owner or manager. Finally, building permit records represent one of the first steps in finding blueprints and building plans of a building.

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