County's building amnesty program sees early success

In less than three months of operation, Pierce County’s Building Amnesty Program is seeing early signs of success in bringing properties up to code, according to Pierce County officials.

Since its Oct. 1 launch, 159 property owners have applied to enter the program operated by the Department of Planning and Land Services (PALS). The amnesty application is available at A $100 fee and site plan gets the process started.

In the initial stage, the amnesty application is simply a request for information on the permit process. An inspector conducts a site visit and performs a cursory inspection of the building(s) to address potential life-safety issues. This enables staff to give the most accurate guidance on the process that specifically fits the property and structures. Once completed, an informational packet containing an itemized list of required materials to submit for a permit(s) is mailed to the applicant, who has one year to obtain the permit(s).

Thus far:

— 365 sites have been field inspected;

— 33 cases were closed because there was no violation;

— 99 percent of the unpermitted structures identified were accessory structures such as barns, garages and sheds. Any accessory residential structure 200 square feet or less is exempt from needing a building permit. Additional accessory structures or those in excess of 200 square feet require a permit. This includes “kit” sheds and canvas-covered sheds that can be purchased at most home improvement stores.

The overall reception by property owners who have been notified they have a structure that requires a permit has been positive, according to PALS staff. Many property owners were not aware they needed a permit, or they expressed concern about penalty repercussions if they came in after the construction was complete.

A common problem with unpermitted buildings is the location. This can include being constructed too close to a property line or another structure, too close to a septic tank, or too close to a reserve drainfield area. Others have been placed in wetlands, wetland buffers or regulated shorelines. Getting a permit in advance can save the additional expense of having to relocate or go through a potentially lengthy and costly hearing process or enforcement action.

PALS staff is preparing a survey that Director Chuck Kleeberg anticipates will assist the department in making changes to expedite and improve the permitting process and customer service.

The Department will continue to work towards shaping this program into a model for homeowners to smoothly go through the permitting process. The department encourages any interested party to opt into the program and complete the survey.