FAQs: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Use the search option or click on categories below to find answers to frequently asked questions.

Still not finding what you need? Please contact us with your questions.

Permits and Fees

Q. What is my permit fee?show

A. Permit fees are based on the type of permit you need and project specifics, such as valuation of work, number of plumbing fixtures, and floor area.  For a permit fee estimate, use our Fee Estimator.

Q. How do you check the status of a permit?show

A. To check the status of a plan review for a permit, log onto https://aca.accela.com/tacoma and select Search Permit Records (1). Then enter in the permit number (2) and access the details of the permit. Under the menu Record Info select Processing Status (3).

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Q. When are mechanical and plumbing permits required?show

A. Mechanical permits are required for the addition, replacement, repair or alteration of mechanical systems in structures. This includes gas lines, propane tanks, and associated piping for flammable liquids. Plumbing permits are required for all plumbing work including water service, drains, water mains, sewage disposal systems and related fixtures and appliances.

Q. Is both a business license and contractor’s license required? If so, how can I, or my company, obtain one?show

A. To do work in the City of Tacoma both a business license and contractor’s license are required. State of Washington Contractor's License  1-800-647-0982 City of Tacoma Business License:  Tax & License Department  (253) 591-5252

Q. Is a license required to operate a business from home?show

A. Yes. For information on Home Occupation Standards contact Development Services at (253) 591-5030. For information on business license requirements, contact the City of Tacoma Tax & License Departmentat (253) 591-5252.

Q. Why is a permit needed?show

A. Permits ensure that work is done safely and meets applicable codes and regulations. They can protect investments if a structure is damaged, and if a property is for sale, can reassure new buyers that the buildings and uses on the property have been permitted and approved.

Q. How much does my land use permit cost?show

A. Click here to find the fee schedule for land use permits.

On-Site Development and Right-Of-Way

For specific questions regarding on-site development and right-of-way not answered here, please contact us.

To see existing aerial photos and property information, enter your address or parcel number into the Map My Property

For the City’s applicable Codes and Regulations for Wastewater (sewer), Stormwater, and Off-Site Improvements, visit:

Q. What is right-of-way? How do I know where right-of-way is located?show

A. Please see the What is Right-Of-Way page.

Q. How do I know if I need a Department of Ecology (also known as Ecology or DOE) Construction Stormwater General Permit (CSWGP)?show

A. If your project will (1) disturb one or more acres of land and will discharge stormwater from the site or  (2) is part of a larger common plan of development or sale that has disturbed or ultimately will disturb one or more acres of land and will discharge stormwater from the site; then coverage under a Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) Construction Stormwater General Permit (CSWGP) may be required.

  • Contact Ecology at (360) 407-7451 for information and to obtain a permit application form (called “Notice of Intent” or “NOI”) or apply online here
  • Application forms for the CSWGP are available to download here
  • The Ecology focus sheet explaining the permit requirements can be found here
Please note:
  • City of Tacoma permit approval does not release the applicant from state or other permitting requirements.
  • To obtain Ecology CSWGP coverage, a public notice must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks with seven days between publications, in at least a single newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the construction is to take place.
  • Ecology cannot grant permit coverage sooner than the end of the 30-day public comment period, which begins on the date of the second public notice.

Q. How do I know if I need a Department of Ecology (also known as Ecology or DOE) Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISPG)?show

A. If your facility conducts industrial activities that discharge stormwater to a surface water body or to a storm sewer system, then it may require Coverage under a Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP).

  • Contact Ecology at (360) 407-7451 for information and to obtain a permit application form (called “Notice of Intent” or “NOI”) or download application forms here.
  • A list of the covered industrial activities is included in Table 1 of the permit available here.
  • For more Information about the ISGP requirements, refer to the Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet here.
Please note:
  • City approval does not release the applicant from state or other permitting requirements.
  • New facilities (beginning operations after January 1, 2010) seeking permit coverage and existing facilities seeking modification of permit coverage are subject to public notice requirements, including a 30-day public comment period. Applicants must publish a public notice at least once a week for two consecutive weeks (with seven days between the two publications) in a single newspaper of general circulation in the county where the facility is located.
  • Ecology cannot grant or modify permit coverage earlier than the end of the 30-day public comment period which begins on the date of the second public notice.

Q. Where are wastewater (sewer) mains and side sewers located?show

A. Wastewater mains, owned and operated by the City, are shown on govME Map. Open the sewer tab and select “Sanitary Sewer Lines and Sanitary Sewer Assets.” Information regarding side sewers, which connect buildings to wastewater mains, may also be available.  Visit the City of Tacoma’s Side Sewer information page and click View and Print Side Sewer Inspection Cards for instructions.  The inspection cards show the approximate location of the side sewer.

Q. Is a building permit required to build a retaining wall?show

A. A building permit is not required for a wall that is:

  • Four (4) feet high or less measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall
  • Located with flat ground on both the upper and lower sides
  • Not supporting a surcharge from a driveway or building or another structure such as a fence and:
  • Built on private property, unless a Street Occupancy Permit from Real Property Services has been obtained for the wall to be located within the right-of-way.

Q. When are improvements (roads, sidewalks, etc.) required?show

A. Improvements such as roads, curb, gutters, sidewalks and utility work are required depending on the scope of a project.  Typically, these types of improvements must be constructed and passed by the inspector prior to final sign-off of the permit by the City.  In some instances, remaining work may be bonded and then finished at a later date.

Q. Where are my property lines?show

A. First, check to see if there are any survey markers at the corner of the property. Unless the property was included in a division of property (such as a short plat, boundary line adjustment or subdivision) the City typically does not contain an inventory of surveys for properties. The DART Map provides only general locations of property lines.  Therefore, to find the specific location of a property line, a private land surveyor, licensed by the State of Washington, will need to be hired.

Q. What if there is a dispute between neighbors about the location of a fence relative to property lines?show

A. The locations of fences on private property are considered private, civil matters and the City does not intervene.  For questions about fences within rights-of-way or City-owned property, please contact Real Property services at (253) 591-5260.

Q. Why should I apply for a tree permit?show

A. Tree permits help to protect businesses, pedestrians, and neighbors in the event of an accident.  The City maintains a list of current licensed and bonded tree care companies that is available by calling 253-591-2048 or emailing trees@cityoftacoma.org. For a consulting arborist, visit the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) website.

Q. How do I get a tree work permit?show

A. First, fill out a Tree Work Application and submit through aca.accela.com/tacoma.  The application will take about one week to process, so please be sure to plan ahead.  Next, a Development Services staff person will contact you with the status of your application.  If approved, companies/business entities will need to bring a copy of your current State contractor's license and proof of bonding.  For homeowners, bring proof of homeowners insurance and a valid identification card/driver's license/passport.  Also, bring street obstruction bond and approved Traffic Control Plan.  Note: Homeowners are not permitted to remove dangerous trees - a licensed professional and bonded contractor would be required to complete the tree removal.

Q. Who needs to apply for a Tree Work Permit and what does it cost?show

A. Any individual or company must obtain a Tree Work Permit if any work in the City of Tacoma right-of-way or public property involves removal, pruning, or planting of trees.  Property owners may also obtain a permit for removal of trees, unless the tree is dangerous and requires a professional to remove.  Tree Works Permits categorized under TMC 9.18 and 9.19 are free of charge and no permit fee is applicable. For Tree Work Permits categorized under TMC 9.20 specific to view enhancement, a fee deposit that is equal to the estimated cost of performing investigation and permit issuance is required in the amount of $1,300.  Any unexpended funds would be returned, as determined by the Public Works Department. Tree Work permits are available at aca.accela.com/tacoma. You will need to create or login to your account, then select Permits. Applications for tree work are located under the Right of way permit type.

Q. Are there any regulations regarding trees and blocking views?show

A. Requirements on cutting, pruning, or removal of trees varies depending on the property ownership the tree is located on, and if it’s within a critical area such as a wetland, stream, buffer, or steep slope. Further, trees may also be required as part of landscaping for a development and cannot be removed without additional review and replanting plans. Please contact us for specific questions as each scenario can vary. For trees located in the public right-of-way, visit the City's Urban Forestry websites for Tree Permits and Evergreen Tacoma.

Q. Is a permit needed to prune/remove trees in the right-of-way?show

A. Yes. Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 9.18 requires permits for pruning or tree removal in the right-of-way, and TMC 9.20 requires permits for pruning or removal of trees from the right-of-way or public property for view purposes.  Tree Work permits for pruning and removal in the right-of-way are available on our Apply for Permits page under Site Development Applications.

Q. Do I need a permit to remove a tree or trees from my private property?show

A. Before removing any trees on private property, contact us to confirm whether a permit is required.  This depends on several factors: whether the tree is located in a Critical Area (such as a steep slope or wetland).  For multiple trees, you may need a Clearing and Grading permit.

Q. Is a permit needed to build a raised bed in the right-of-way?show

A. Yes, per TMC 9.08, a no-fee Street Occupancy Permit is required.  A drawing/plan of your raised bed is reviewed with your application.  Your plan does not need to be in color, but please make sure everything is clearly labeled before submitting, including all utilities, driveways, signs, and streetlights.

Land Use and Zoning

To speak with a Planner on Duty please contact us and your inquiry will be returned by the next business day

To see zoning districts, view DART Map.

For zoning and critical areas regulations, see Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) Title 13 Land Use Regulatory Code.

Q. Can a lot be subdivided?show

A. Subdividing a property depends on several factors, such as:

  1. Will the lots meet minimum lot area, lot width, setback, and parking standards?
  2. Will existing structures on the property still meet zoning requirements after subdividing, such as setbacks?
  3. Will driveway access meet traffic and land use standards?
  4. What type of infrastructure and street improvements will I (the property owner/applicant) be responsible for? All required improvements (sidewalks or street paving) are done at the property owner's expense.
For more information on subdividing property, contact us.

Q. What is the current zoning of a property? And how do I find out what it means?show

A. In addition to mapping features listed above, you can enter an address or parcel number online at My Tacoma.  The applicable zoning district will be listed under the "My Parcel" tab.

Q. What are setbacks and how are they determined?show

A. Setbacks are the required distance from a structure to property lines.  Depending on which zoning a property is located in, the setbacks may vary. You can also find the information online at DART Map, the City's online GIS mapping system, using the link above.

  • Once in the mapping system, use the tab “find” in the upper right corner to search by address, parcel, cross street, etc.
  • Then, on the left side of the screen, click on the bar titled “Building & Land Use (Development Services)” and click on the folder titled “zoning”.
  • The first three zoning layers will provide you with the zoning and any applicable layers for that district
  • Then, refer to the Tacoma Municipal Code for the specific setback requirements, using the link above.
  • Please note that setbacks are to the property lines – not the edge of the sidewalk.

Q. What is a “single family home?”show

A. A single family home is a building designed for or used as the residence of one family. A “family” is defined by the land use code as “One or more persons related either by blood, marriage, adoption, or guardianship, and including foster children and exchange students, or a group of not more than six unrelated persons, living together as a single nonprofit housekeeping unit; provided, however, any limitation on the number of residents resulting from this definition shall not be applied if it prohibits the City from making reasonable accommodations to disabled persons in order to afford such persons equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling as required by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(b).” 

Q. Can another living unit be added to a house?show

A. The most common form of adding a second living unit to a house is called an Accessory Dwelling Unit (commonly known as a “mother-in-law” unit).  Our Tip Sheet  section of this website includes additional information about standards for an accessory dwelling unit. Check with staff on other possible ways to add additional living units to an existing house or lot.  Some parts of the City have zoning that allows for duplexes, triplexes, etc. Or, adding a separate, second home on the property might also be an option.

Q. What if there is a dispute between neighbors about the location of a fence relative to property lines?show

A. The locations of fences on private property are considered private, civil matters and the City does not intervene.  For questions about fences within rights-of-way or City-owned property, please contact Real Property services at (253) 591-5260.

Q. Are chickens allowed in the city of Tacoma?show

A. Yes, chickens are allowed in the City.  However roosters are prohibited.  The keeping of animals is regulated under the City’s Health and Sanitation Code. See page 5-51 for specifics on poultry keeping. Structures, such as coops, barns, etc.  must also comply with detached accessory building standards. Our Tip Sheets include additional information about chickens.

Q. How do I find more information about historically designated properties or areas within the City?show

A. The website http://www.cityoftacoma.org/HistoricPreservation can provide you with information about Historic Preservation.

Q. What are the City’s sign regulations?show

A. The city’s sign regulations are found in Tacoma Municipal Code 13.06.520-522 Please locate Tacoma Municipal Code Title 13 here.

Q. What are critical areas?show

A. Critical areas include critical aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas (FWHCAs), flood hazard areas, geologically hazardous areas, stream corridors, and wetlands.

Q. Why are critical areas protected within the City of Tacoma?show

A. Critical Areas regulations implement the goals, policies and requirements of the Washington State Growth Management Act as contained within the City of Tacoma Critical Areas Preservation Ordinance. Because of the ecological benefits of critical areas, their past destruction, and the increasing pressure to develop them, the intent of chapter 13.11 is to ensure that the City’s remaining critical areas are preserved and protected and that activities in or adjacent to these areas are managed.

Q. Where do you find more information about the City of Tacoma’s Critical Area regulations?show

A. By researching the appropriate sections of the Tacoma Municipal Code, Chapter 13.11. If you need additional assistance, please schedule a meeting with City Staff, or contact Development Services. The provisions of Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) 13.11 apply to all lands and waters, all land uses and development activities, and all structures and facilities in the City, whether or not a permit or authorization is required, and shall apply to every person, firm, partnership, corporation, group, governmental agency, or other entity that owns, leases, or administers land within the City. This chapter specifically applies to any activity which would destroy vegetation; result in a significant change in critical habitat, water temperature, physical, or chemical characteristics; or alter natural contours and/or substantially alter existing patterns of tidal, sediment, or storm water flow on any land which meets the classification standards for any critical area defined herein. Such activities include excavation, grading, filling, the removal of vegetation, and the construction, exterior alteration, or enlargement of any building or structure. In addition, this chapter applies to all public or private actions, permits, and approvals in or adjacent to a critical area and its buffer.

Q. How do you know if there is a regulated critical area on a property?show

A. The mapping tool on govME and other Federal, State and County sources are only guidelines available for reference providing only general locations of known critical areas. The actual location of critical areas must be determined on a site-by-site basis according to the classification criteria. City Staff or a private consultant can perform a Site Review in order to determine whether a critical area and/or buffer are present on or adjacent to a proposal. To arrange a Site Review please contact Development Services.

Q. Can a parcel still be developed if it contains critical areas?show

A. Yes. The Critical Areas Preservation Ordinance (CAPO) includes provision to allow a reasonable economic use of all legally created build-able parcels. Development will require critical area review and potentially an Allowed with Staff Review Letter, Minor Development or Development Permit.

Q. How do you know if a Wetland/Stream/Fish and Wildlife Habitat Area (FWHCA) Permit is required?show

A. Following the Site Review Process, a project may proceed without further critical area permitting if the applicant can demonstrate the following: 1. There are no adverse impacts to the critical area or buffer, and 2. Structures and improvements are all located beyond the required buffers, and 3. Existing hydrology will be maintained to support critical areas, and 4. The proposed use or activity is consistent with WDFW species management recommendations. In conjunction with the site review process, the Land Use Administrator may require additional information on the physical, biological, and anthropogenic features that contribute to the existing ecological conditions and functions to determine whether a formal wetland/stream/FWHCA exemption, assessment or development permit is required. Otherwise the project will need to comply with either Allowed Activities (TMC 13.11.200), Activities Allowed with Staff Review (TMC 13.11.210) sections or a Development Permit will be required.

Q. Has the new Shoreline Master Program been adopted yet? Where can I find it?show

A. The Shoreline Master Program became effective on October 15, 2013. The Master Program includes new administrative procedures for shoreline permits, as well as new goals, policies and development regulations. The adopted Master Program is now in effect. To see the new Master Program as well as other associated land use regulatory code amendments, please click here.

Building Code

For specific questions regarding building code not seen here, please contact us.

The City’s Building Code regulations are located in Tacoma Municipal Code Title 02.

Q. What are the allowed hours of construction?show

A. Construction hours are Mon-Fri from 7am to 9pm; and Sat-Sun and holidays 9am to 9pm. Also, when approved through noise variances, loud construction may be performed outside those hours (Tacoma Municipal Code Section 8.122).

Q. Is a building permit required to build a retaining wall?show

A. A building permit is not required for a wall that is:

  • Four (4) feet high or less measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall
  • Located with flat ground on both the upper and lower sides
  • Not supporting a surcharge from a driveway or building or another structure such as a fence and:
  • Built on private property, unless a Street Occupancy Permit from Real Property Services has been obtained for the wall to be located within the right-of-way.

Q. What set of Codes is the City of Tacoma currently using?show

A. Codes for building construction are adopted by the State of Washington, and amended by the City of Tacoma. Please see our Building Code Library for current applicable codes.

Q. When are building permits required for an addition to a single family home or duplex?show

A. Most construction work to a single family home or duplex requires a permit. Exemptions to a permit include:

  • One-story accessory structures (tool sheds and playhouses) provided that the floor area does not exceed 200 square feet
  • Fences that do not exceed seven feet (7') in height
  • Decks that do not exceed 200 square feet in area and that are not more than 30" above grade at any point
  • Removing and replacing an existing roof of a single family dwelling or duplex. Note: Adding a new roof layer to an existing roof, (without removing the old layer) requires a permit.
  • Interior or exterior painting
  • Wall papering, tiling, countertops, cabinet installation, carpeting, and similar finish work.
If the construction work you are doing does not fall under one of these exemptions, please contact us.

Q. What’s required for a permit for an addition to or remodel of a house?show

A. First, a project must meet all applicable setbacks, height and use requirements. Setbacks are the required distance from a structure to property lines.  Depending on which zoning district a property is located in, the setbacks, height, and use requirements may vary. For more information, contact us. You can also find the information online using My Tacoma and the Tacoma Municipal Code. When you get to My Tacoma, please:

  • Enter your address or parcel number.
  • Choose the “My Parcel” tab to find the applicable zoning code, which is located toward the middle of the section.
  • Find the appropriate section of the The Land Use (Zoning) code  and refer to the setback and use tables
  • Please note that setbacks are to the property lines – not the edge of the sidewalk.
Next, review the drawings required for the proposed work. Typically, this includes a floor plan, elevation drawings (for any exterior work), and a site plan.  More information about these drawings can be found in Submit Plans and Documents.

Q. Is a building permit required to build a storage shed?show

A. A structure that meets the following requirements is exempt from a building permit:

  • A one-story detached accessory structure used as a tool/storage shed, playhouse, or similar uses
  • Structure must be 200 square feet or less. It is recommended that if the height of the structure exceeds 10 feet, you discuss the proposal with one of the Residential Plans Examiners in Planning and Development Services.
  • Structure must be for single family homes, duplexes or townhouses.
Note: Detached accessory structures, such as sheds, garages, greenhouses, etc., must still comply with Land Use setback and development requirements indicated in the Tacoma Municipal Code.

Q. Is a building permit required to build a fence?show

A. A fence that is seven (7) feet high or less is exempt from a building permit. A fence over seven (7) feet in height will require a permit. A fence on commercial property may require review if it will block or gate any entrance or exit, due to Fire Department requirements.

Q. Is a building permit required to build a deck?show

A. A deck that meets the following requirements is exempt from a building permit:

  • Deck must be 200 square feet or less
  • Deck must be 30 inches or less above grade at any point
  • Deck is not attached to the house, and does not serve as a required exit door
  • Deck must be for a single family house, duplex or townhouse.
Note: Decks must still comply with Land Use setback requirements from the Tacoma Municipal Code.

Q. Is a permit required to re-roof a house?show

A. If removing and replacing old roofing, no permit is needed. If adding an additional layer to existing roofing, a pre-roof inspection and permit is required.  Changing a roofline also requires a permit.

Q. What is required to build a garage, shed, or carport?show

A. Garages or sheds, if located more than six feet from the house, are called detached accessory structures.  See the Tip Sheets for standards on size, height and location.  If the proposed work is attached to a house (such as a carport), or within six feet of the house, then it is considered attached and must comply with the same setbacks and access requirements as the house.  Reviews for land use, building, and site (wastewater, stormwater, and access) will occur as part of the application for building permit review.  For more detailed information, review our tip sheet, which can be found on our Tip Sheets page.

Q. What is required to construct an addition or remodel a commercial building?show

A. Remodels and additions require a building permit, and associated plumbing and mechanical permits. Land use (zoning), wastewater (sewer), stormwater and off-site improvement reviews will also be conducted, and other permits may be required. You can find out more by exploring this website, including information on what is required for submittals, in our Permitting Library.

Q. Are there tax exemptions when remodeling or constructing additions to a single-family home?show

A. Yes, please visit https://www.co.pierce.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=712 for more information. 

Q. Why is a permit needed?show

A. Permits ensure that work is done safely and meets applicable codes and regulations. They can protect investments if a structure is damaged, and if a property is for sale, can reassure new buyers that the buildings and uses on the property have been permitted and approved.

Q. How much will a building permit cost?show

A. Most building permit fees are based upon the valuation of the work proposed. For an estimate of the permit fees for a project, please contact a Permit Specialist or call 253-591-5030.

Q. When are mechanical and plumbing permits required?show

A. Mechanical permits are required for the addition, replacement, repair or alteration of mechanical systems in structures. This includes gas lines, propane tanks, and associated piping for flammable liquids. Plumbing permits are required for all plumbing work including water service, drains, water mains, sewage disposal systems and related fixtures and appliances.

Q. What is a tenant improvement?show

A. A tenant improvement is interior improvements to an existing commercial building in order to make the space suitable for a particular use.  Some limited structural work may be included in a tenant improvement.  Please contact us with any questions, or to set up a tenant improvement meeting.

Q. How do I find out if a building has asbestos in it?show

A. Please contact State of Washington, Department of Labor & Industries at (253) 596-3909 or visit their website.

Inspections

For specific questions regarding inspections, please contact us.

Q. Can I schedule inspections online?show

A. You may schedule an inspection online by visiting our permitting portal Tacoma Permits (ACA) at aca.accela.com/tacoma or by phone at 253-573-2587. See our Inspections page for further information.

Code Enforcement

For specific questions regarding code enforcement, please contact us.

Q. How do you find out if there are any code enforcement actions on a home?show

A. To find the information online at My Tacoma, the City's online property information system.

  • Enter your address or parcel number.
  • Choose the “My Parcel” tab to find code violations, which are located at the bottom of the section.
For further information about code enforcement actions, please contact Tacoma CARES at 253-591-5001 or contact us.