SB Unreasonable Permit turn around expectations

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Tracey Norris

New member
Jun 6, 2024
How do you handle unreasonable contractors/permit runners/homeowners
when it comes to permit release times.
United States
We have a turn around time of 4-6 weeks for commercial/industrial and about 4 weeks for residential, from complete submittal. We tell them this but sometimes it gets done sooner. Also, our plans reviewers tackle the small stuff in between. The jurisdiction to the south of us is 4-6 months, so we don't get many complaints.
Clear up-front communication is key. Most of the time there is a 10 day turnaround if the application is complete. More complex projects will take longer of course and that is communicated at application submittal.
We have our permit timeline estimation page updated quarterly for the public to see and we update our customers with our newsletter quarterly too. If they complain about how long it is taking, we inform them that for major permits, any projects that are fully electric or provide affordable housing are expedited. We also urge our customers to come in for pre-submittal meetings where they talk to a plans review who looks at their initial plans and let them know exactly what we need. This reduces review rounds and increases permit turnaround time substantially.
I had this issue recently, I had everyone signed off except one person, and I kept bugging them because the contractor kept bugging me (nicely, surprisingly)....We just have to be open and honest with our clients....some can smell the bs, so it's not worth it.
We make sure to let everyone know that our average turnaround time is 10 business days.

It seems that no matter what we do, there will always be unreasonable expectations when it comes to permit issuance.
Permit "Runner" here. The thing I am looking for is clear expectations. Is it going to be 5 weeks? Great, I can work with that and set expectations with my client. I will check in as we get near that 5-week mark to see if we need to reset expectations or beg for a favor if my client is in a pickle, but I will always work to communicate in a way that feels collaborative, not adversarial.

At the end of the day the most challenging thing is a vague timeline for contractors. Knowing it's 8 weeks out and being able to count on that is better than no information that makes scheduling a challenge. When in doubt, over-explain in your communications. Just like a teenager overexplaining to their parents, the more information you provide the more trust folks will have. The more trust, the less likely they'll be grilling you when you're trying to get your work done.
Make sure they know you hear them; most people want to be related to.
I have learned to always overestimate the timeline, instead of saying 2 weeks - I say 3-4 weeks for cushion.
be friendly and always communicate.

Well said. You definitely want to "underpromise, overdeliver" as much as possible and set applicants' expectations appropriately.

The jurisdiction to the south of us is 4-6 months, so we don't get many complaints.

Funny how that works, isn't it? As much as I'm sometimes dismayed by shortcomings in our (USACE Regulatory) permit process, my perspective quickly shifts when applicants start telling me about all the issues and delays they're facing with other agencies. This is particularly true in California where three state agencies often regulate the exact same water resource impacts that we do.

The California state agencies often have stricter requirements than us and often experience high turnover or are poorly staffed. The upshot is that we're almost always among the easiest agencies to work with. Applicants aren't generally that frustrated by our review times because they're usually working in parallel with another state agency who's giving them a much harder time.
I think people just want to be updated in due time. They don't like to be stuck waiting without a response as to why they wait is so long. And I agree with others that say to listen and apologize that it's taken so long. Sometimes it's not within your power to move things faster, and I think when it's explained to people, they tend to understand.
Be clear upfront, they will typically be thankful for even getting a timeframe of expected approval and/or plan review comments or have an idea of when they should check back in to see where the review is at.