Skip to Content

San Luis Obispo County, California

 > County of San Luis Obispo > Planning and Building > Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


What does the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department do?

The Department of Planning & Building is a consolidated general county department encompassing many functions.

Current land use planning - Process land use entitlement applications including staff review and approval of plot plans, site plans, minor use permits, development plans, variances, subdivision maps, lot line adjustments, certificates of compliance and other similar land use permits.

Long Range planning - Study the growth of towns, villages and rural areas of the unincorporated areas of the county and prepare plans that strive to balance the need for growth, economic vitality, and the protection of natural resources, agricultural lands and rural character. Long Range Planning staff work with communities, interest groups, agencies and individuals in planning livable communities that are responsive to local needs and vision. Carrying out those objectives, the Community Planning Section prepares and maintains the County General Plan and the Resource Management System. This group of planners also prepares Community Design Plans that encourage excellence in building design, pedestrian oriented layouts, and streetscape improvements that help stimulate economic vitality and enhance downtown charm. The Housing, Economic Development and Energy Programs Section administers state and federal grant programs such as the Community Development Block Grant program that supports a variety of affordable housing programs and promotes economic growth and vitality, and prepares the Housing Element of the General Plan. The Energy Program administers the public utility funded Energy Watch Program and facilitates other local and state energy efficiency and financing programs, training, and education outreach.

Building permit issuance - Process and issue building and grading permits, plan reviews.

Building inspections - Field inspection of all projects requiring construction or grading approval, administration of codes related to substandard housing violations and dangerous buildings.

Energy and natural resources planning and project review - Evaluate and respond to proposed energy and mining development within the county including the processing of all land use permit applications for onshore energy and surface mining projects; monitor and evaluate offshore oil development studies, continue development of proposals for submittal to the state and federal governments for protection of waters off the county coast and coordinate and development an ongoing inspection program for all surface mining operations.

Resource protection - Enforcement of land use codes and nuisance abatement activities, enforcement of substandard housing violations and compliance assurance of conditions of approval on development projects.

Environmental Review - Assist elected and appointed county officials and the public in evaluating potential impacts of land use projects, both private and county, on environmental resources as required by the California Public Resources Code.

Public Services - Respond to a variety of general inquiries about land use regulations and building permit and provide ordinance interpretation, conduct initial review and acceptance of all permit applications and appeals, as well as manage road naming and addressing.

Boards and Commissions- The department supports or partially staffs a number of county and community boards and commissions. The following is a brief discussion of the major boards and commissions and their makeup.  

  • San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission - A five-member citizen commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors to act on behalf of the Board and make recommendations to the Board on planning matters.
  • County Subdivision Review Board - A technical advisory board that acts on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and makes recommendations to the Board on subdivision related planning matters. It consists of appointed staff members from the Planning and Building Dept., Public Works Dept., County Fire Dept. and Air Pollution Control District.
  • County Airport Land Use Commission - Advisory agency created to discuss, study and make recommendations related to problems associated with and surrounding airports within San Luis Obispo County.
  • County Board of Construction Appeals - A hearing body whose members represent the construction industry, the design professions, and the general public. If a person wishes to appeal a code interpretation or decision of the building official, this board would hear such an appeal. Its decisions are final - that is, they may not be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. 

Return to Top

Where are you located and how can I contact you?

The San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning & Building is located in downtown San Luis Obispo, on the corner of Osos and Palm Streets, in room 200 of the old courthouse (see street address below). If you are traveling from the south county to our office, take Highway 101 north to the Osos Street exit. If you are traveling from the north county, take Highway 101 south to the Santa Rosa Street exit. Take Santa Rosa Street south, then turn right on Palm Street.

South County Office:

Our SLO office hours are:

Public Counter - 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Walk-in clients are welcome for both Building and Planning.  Appointments are scheduled for Planning only.  If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (805) 781-5600

Our SLO office address is:

Department of Planning & Building
Attn: (Staff Member or Section Name) 
976 Osos Street, Room 300 
San Luis Obispo , CA 93408

*NOTE: The County Government Center has its own separate zip code


  • General information, Building Permits, Planning and Land Use Permits (805) 781-5600
  • Automated Inspection Scheduling (805) 788-2076
  • Toll Free (All County Depts.) (800) 834-4636
  • FAX: Main Office (805) 781-1242

North County Office:

Our North County office hours are:

    Public Counter - 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Fridays (closed for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)

Our North County office address is:

    Department of Planning & Building 
    Above the Library  
    Atascadero, CA 93422


  • Front Counter (805) 461-6138


Return to Top

Do I Need a Construction Permit?

A construction permit is needed for almost any project that involves building or altering a structure or its plumbing, mechanical or electrical systems.  Additionally, any project that includes grading, where soil will be removed and/or filled in, usually requires a permit.  All of the procedures and regulations used to determine when a permit is necessary and also how to review that permit, are set forth in county ordinances and/or state law.  Such documents include the:

  • Uniform Administrative Code
  • Uniform Building, Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical  Codes (with California Supplements)
  • Building and Construction Ordinance (Title 19 of the County Code)
  • Land Use Ordinance - Coastal and Inland (Titles 22 & 23 of the County Code)

All of these documents are available for purchase or review at the Planning and Building Department.

Return to Top

What is an Over-The-Counter Permit?

An Over-The-Counter Permit is a permit application used for many minor projects such as electrical permits, skylight permits, water heater permits, etc.  They can be obtained in a single trip to our office without an appointment. You will need to fill out an application with the owner's name, job address, description of work and assessor's parcel number, and pay the permit fee. You may also mail in an application for this type of permit. Please call a construction technician at 781-5600 if you would like more information.

Return to Top

Who Can Prepare Plans?

An owner or a draftsperson may prepare plans for single family dwellings and alterations to single family dwellings that are classified as "conventional construction" by the building code. For non-conventional houses (at least the parts of them that are non-conventional) and virtually all commercial buildings, drawings must be prepared by a professional - architect or engineer - who is licensed in the state of California. Call our plan review section at 781-5600 if you would like more information.

Return to Top

What is the purpose of a Building Inspection?

Building codes and other construction regulations are standards that have been adopted to protect public health and safety.  We inspect building projects during construction to ensure that each project meets these standards.  Our goal is to perform thorough inspections, yet have minimal impact on your project.  We try to:

  • Identify potential problems before they occur, so you can avoid them and save time and money.
  • Help you solve any problems you encounter as quickly as possible.  Between regular inspections, you can schedule a consultation inspection if you have a problem that you can’t resolve by phone.
  • Whenever possible, when building code violations are identified, allow you to proceed with construction while you are correcting the violations.
  • To avoid delays or costly mistakes, notify your inspector as soon as you have a code question, an unusual situation or any other construction problem that may need special attention or handling. If you are not sure how to proceed at any point during construction, contact your inspector before you continue working.

Return to Top

When do I need a Building Inspection?

When your permit was issued, you received an inspection card.  The card lists the required inspections and the work to be completed before each inspection.  It also describes specific tests, such as pressure tests on gas or water lines, that may be required before certain inspections. 

Listed below are the most common inspections.  However, because construction projects vary, it is best to consult your building inspector at the first site visit to clarify which inspections are required for your project.

For Slab Construction

  • Under-slab mechanical & plumbing - before trenches are backfilled.
  • Footing and slab - after all forming is complete, reinforcing materials are placed and before any concrete is poured.
  • Roof nailing - before any roofing material is applied.  If shear walls are required, shear nailing and framing hardware must also be inspected.
  • Rough framing - after all framing, rough electrical, plumbing, and mechanical are completed, and windows are installed.
  • Exterior lath - includes inspection of stucco lath or nailing of siding.
  • Insulation - All insulation as required by the California Energy Standards.
  • Drywall - With nails (or screws) installed and before taping.
  • Final - after all construction, access, and fire safety requirements are complete, and when all conditions of approval are met.

For Raised Floor Construction

  • Footing and stem wall - after all forming is completed, reinforcing materials are placed, and before any concrete is poured.
  • Sub-floor - inspection of joist and sill, and underfloor mechanical and plumbing, before floor sheathing is applied.
  • Roof nailing - before any roofing material is applied.  If shear walls are required, shear nailing and framing hardware must also be inspected.
  • Rough framing - after all framing, rough electrical, plumbing, and mechanical are completed, and windows are installed.
  • Exterior lath - includes inspection of stucco lath or nailing of siding.
  • Insulation - All insulation as required by the California Energy Standards.
  • Drywall - With nails (or screws) installed and before taping.
  • Final - after all construction, access, and fire safety requirements are complete, and when all conditions of approval are met.

Return to Top

What Must I Do To Prepare For An Inspection?

Before the building inspector arrives, be sure that the work to be inspected is completed in compliance with your plans and any relevant code requirements, that your inspection card and plans approved and stamped by the county are at the job site, and that the necessary access for inspection (including a ladder if needed) is provided.  If the building is occupied, make sure someone is at home to let the inspector in.  If any tests are required, make sure it is ready so that the inspector can observe the outcome  (e.g. for a gas piping test the inspector would need to observe a pressure gauge showing the pressure holding steady after the gas lines were pressurized).

Return to Top

What Happens After Each Inspection?

The inspector will sign the appropriate space on your inspection card if your project passes the inspection.  If it doesn’t, the inspector will leave you a correction notice describing any changes that must be made before you can schedule a re-inspection.

Return to Top

How Do I Schedule An Inspection?

To schedule an inspection, call our automated scheduling system at (805)788-2076 any time before midnight for an inspection on the following workday.  You can also use our online Inspection Scheduling System. You must have your permit number and the inspection code for the type of inspection you want.  You can find the inspection code on the list given to you when your permit was issued.  To find out the approximate time of your inspection, you may call your building inspector between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. the day it is scheduled. When possible, your inspector will try to accommodate your request for a morning or afternoon inspection.  If the road or driveway to your building site is gated, be sure to leave the gate unlocked the day an inspection is scheduled.

Return to Top

What is a Use Permit?

A Use Permit (commonly known as a Conditional Use Permit) is an approval that allows a specific use of land, generally subject to specific conditions and/or limitations. A Use Permit is a discretionary approval, meaning that the County decision makers will exercise judgment in determining whether a specific proposal conforms with the codes and policies adopted by the County. Each zoning district lists specific land uses that can be allowed with a Use Permit. These land uses are generally those that are more intensive in nature and may have environmental or neighborhood impacts if not designed appropriately. The Use Permit process generally takes approximately 6-9 months at which time a public hearing is held. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the hearing body will conditionally approve or deny the Use Permit application. Decisions of the hearing body can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. If approved, the applicant has two years to meet conditions of approval and implement the approved use.

Return to Top

Does my proposed project require a public hearing?

All General Plan Amendments and Zone Changes require public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Most Use Permits applications require public hearings before the Zoning Administrator or the Planning Commission. Planning Department Review approval (processed by staff with no public hearing) is often the only requirement for new commercial or industrial uses in existing buildings or for minor additions to existing commercial and industrial buildings.

Return to Top

Can I live in a travel trailer on my property?

San Luis Obispo County ordinances generally do not allow occupancy of a travel trailer on private property unless it is located in a mobile home park or, for limited time periods, in a recreational vehicle park. However, a travel trailer can be used while a home is under construction on the property, provided that permits for both the house and the temporary trailer are obtained.

Return to Top

What is the difference between a Secondary Dwelling Unit and a guest house?

Secondary dwelling units can have a kitchen and can be rented. A guest house cannot have a kitchen, laundry, garage, or separate electrical meter, nor be rented separately from the main house. Secondary dwelling units cannot exceed 1,200 square feet, while guest houses are limited to 600 square feet in size. A property is not allowed to have both a secondary dwelling unit and a guesthouse.

Return to Top

Can I subdivide my land?

Many factors affect subdivision potential. Property owners should discuss their proposal with Planning staff at the Planning and Building Department before proceeding with any subdivision plans. Subdivisions are regulated by state law as well as County regulations. If your property is eligible for a subdivision, you must submit a complete application including a “tentative” subdivision map prepared by a licensed surveyor or engineer, and pay the necessary processing fees. Proposed subdivisions must be consistent with the County’s General Plan, Zoning Code and with the state Subdivision Map Act. Adequate sewage disposal and water supply must be demonstrated. Subdivisions are subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. A public hearing is held before the Subdivision Review Board (for a minor subdivision consisting of 4 or fewer lots) or the Planning Commission (major subdivisions of 5 or more lots). Property owners within 300 feet of the property to be subdivided are notified and have an opportunity to speak at the public hearing.

Return to Top

Is my parcel buildable?

A parcel’s buildability depends upon constraints including parcel size and shape, slope, proximity to floodplain, soil suitability for foundations and septic systems, and water availability. Any structures will have to meet zoning ordinance setbacks from property lines, building code requirements for foundation and building design, health codes for water supply and sewage disposal, and fire codes.

Return to Top

Can You Tell Me If There Are Any Easements On My Property?

Public easements, such as open space and public roads, are usually indicated on recorded parcel maps, subdivision maps and Assessor Parcel Maps.  These maps may be reviewed at the Planning and Building Department counter, the Public Works Department, and the Assessor's office.

Private easements, such as road and utility right-of-ways, are also indicated on parcel maps and final maps but not on Assessor Parcel Maps.  If your property is not shown on a recorded final map or parcel map, the best source for easement information is your policy of title insurance.  Since private easements may be granted at any time, without County approval, a current title report is the most accurate.

Return to Top

Where can I view agendas for the Planning Commission, Planning Department Hearings, Subdivision Review Board, and/or the Airport Land Use Commission?

Planning Commission, Planning Department Hearings, Subdivision Review Board, and/or the Airport Land Use Commission agendas can be viewed on our Meetings, Agendas & Video Streaming page. Agendas are normally published seven days prior to the hearing date.

Return to Top

How large can a storage shed be before a building permit is required?

The maximum is 120 square feet with no utilities.  You should consult with a Department planner to determine setback requirements and design review requirements.  A structure larger than 120 feet, or one of any size that contains utilities, requires a building permit.

Return to Top