By Amanda Frye
Redlands residents are calling into question their city’s aggressive levying of what have been characterized as exorbitant permit fees for relatively routine home repairs.
Redlands has regulations that call for securing permits to do a host of improvements on properties in the city. While many other California cities engage in a permitting process relating to alterations made to residential properties and some of the fees Redlands has instituted are relatively consistent with those applied by municipalities or county governments elsewhere in California, Redlands imposes permitting and inspection fees with regard to picayune maintenance or replacement efforts that are virtually off the charts.
According to Carl Baker, the City of Redlands’ official spokesman, the city is within acceptable legal parameters in requiring the permits.
Baker said that virtually all improvement work pertaining to domiciles qualify as “items [that] require permits and have required permits for many years. Plug in equipment such as window air conditioners and heaters do not require a permit as long as new electrical isn’t installed for the unit. According to the city’s building inspector, there are no exemptions in the state code for altering existing installations.”
Those include replacement of everyday utility appurtenances, he said.
Baker said the city’s authority to levy the permit fees stems from the California Plumbing Code, the California Electircal Code and the California Mechanical Code. Baker quoted what he said was the relevant section of the 2016 California Plumbing Code, 104.1: “It shall be unlawful for a person, firm, or corporation to make an installation, alteration, repair, replacement, or remodel a plumbing system, regulated by this code… without first obtaining a separate plumbing permit for each separate building or structure.”
The relevant section of the 2016 California Electrical Code, was 126.96.36.199, which states, in part: “… a written construction permit shall be obtained from the enforcing agency prior to erection, construction, reconstruction, installation, movement or alteration of any electrical system.
And, Baker said, the apropos section of the 2016 California Mechanical Code reads, “It shall be unlawful for a person, firm, or corporation to make an installation, alteration, repair, replacement, or remodel a mechanical system regulated by this code… without first obtaining a separate mechanical permit for each separate building or structure.”
Baker said that in Redlands “A basic electrical, plumbing or mechanical permit is approximately $250.”
Redlands falls roughly within the mainstream in terms of the costs that attend certain major undertakings such as the fees the city charges for permits and inspections for erecting new buildings, masonry or walls over a certain height, pools and electrical panels. The city’s levies for other home improvements, however, are perceived as being somewhat officious, as in the case of the city requiring a homeowner to obtain a permit for replacing a light fixture, toilet or a faucet, or adding a room heater or window air conditioning unit.
In some cases, the permit/inspection charge can double or even triple the cost of what would otherwise be a periodic or conventional changeout.
The fees Redlands is imposing appear to be illegal and unconstitutional in that they are being utilized to generate revenue, which such permits and inspection fees cannot exceed the actual cost of carrying out the inspection of administrative costs related to the permit issuance.
According to Section 188.8.131.52 Fees of the 2016 California plumbing Code 9 Division I California administration supplement blue book issued on July 1, 2018, “Subject to other provisions of law, the governing body of any city, county, or city and county may prescribe fees to defray the cost of enforcement of rules and regulations promulgated by the Department of Housing and Community Development. The amount of the fees shall not exceed the amount reasonably necessary to administer or process permits, certificates, forms, or other documents, or to defray the costs of enforcement.”
Furthermore, Redlands has also applied the permitting and inspection requirements to commonplace upkeep work which is exempt from such requirements.
According to the 2016 California Plumbing Code 9 Division I California administration supplement Blue Book issued on July 1, 2018, “Work exempt from permits as specified in Chapter 1, Administration, Division II, Section 104.2 items (1)-(2) of this code” includes “Changes, alterations, or repairs of a minor nature not affecting structural features, egress, sanitation, safety, or accessibility as determined by the enforcing agency. Exemptions from permit requirements shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of other provisions of law or this code.”
It would thus seem, at least as far as minor plumbing issues extend, that Redlands is overstepping the authority vested in it as a the local enforcing agency.
Moreover, in comparison to the cost of permits and the inspection fees it levies, it is out of step with other municipal and governmental entities in the Golden State.
The City of Fremont charges $6.90 in permit and inspection fees for a plumbing fixture or trap or set of fixtures on one trap, including water, drainage piping and backflow protection.
The City of Fremont charges $27.60 for a water heater and/or vent installation inspection and registration permit.
The City of Freemont charges $69 for a private sewage disposal inspection permit.
In Ventura County reinspections of existing building, plumbing, mechanical,or electrical systems that have been altered, modified or changed run to $99.30.
Ventura County charges $1.80 for inspections and permitting relating to adding or changing receptacle, switch, or lighting outlets.
Ventura County’s inspection fees for a pole or platform-mounted light fixture is $12.50.
Ventura County charges $12.50 for a permit and inspection of an air conditioning unit, per ton.
In Ventura County, a plumbing fixture, trap or set of fixtures on one trap (including water, drainage piping, and backflow protection is permitted and expected at a fee of $15.30.
Ventura County charges $19.60 to inspect and permit the installation of a water heater and/or vent.
The inspection of repair or alteration of water piping runs to $7.50 for each fixture.
An air conditioning inspection/permits costs $26.60 in Ventura County.
Burdening Redlands residents with excessive fees and unreasonable searches is unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February that neither the federal government, states or local governments can impose excessive fees on citizens in the course of carrying out governmental regulations or in enforcing the law.
The City of Redlands charging $250 to inspect the installation of an otherwise inexpensive $50 faucet would push the cost of such an improvement effort to $300, a 500 percent add on.
Additionally, the application for the permit and inspection includes language granting city workers 24 hour access to the applicant’s premises at the discretion of city officials in order to carry out the inspections.