A commercial building under construction

Commercial Building Permits

Why is a permit required?

Building code permits help protect public safety, health and general welfare. The plan review and inspection process helps the permit holder to verify compliance with the current minimum requirements including but not limited to:

  • Adequate light and ventilation
  • Basic sanitation
  • Energy conservation
  • Fire and life safety, such as exiting in case of emergencies
  • Structural strength and stability


When is a commercial building permit required?

A commercial building permit is generally required when changes or alterations are made to a commercial and/or multi-family* building or when any new construction is undertaken. Electrical, mechanical and plumbing work also require permits. A permit may also be required to turn utilities back on after a fire.

All projects, whether they need a permit or not, must comply with the adopted building codes and regulations, accessibility requirements and the Vancouver Municipal Code (VMC).

*Multi-family is defined as 3 or more dwelling units, (with the exception of zero-lot line townhomes), and is subject to review under the International Building Code (IBC).

Many projects require a commercial building permit. The scopes of work listed below are typical commercial projects and not a comprehensive list. If you're not sure if a permit is required please contact our Permit Center at permitcenter@cityofvancouver.us or (360) 487-7802.

When is a commercial permit required?

  • Additions, alterations and remodels to existing structures
  • Change of use and/or occupancy
  • Racking
  • New construction
  • Parking lot

When is a commercial permit not required?**

  • Creating new surfaces such as: painting, carpeting, countertops and similar finish work
  • Ordinary maintenance repairs

**Work exempt from permit still needs to meet building code requirements as well as municipal code requirements (setbacks, height, etc.).

+ Commercial Building Permit Process

1. Submit for Permit

Plans are taken in for routing and review. To have your project reviewed, bring your completed Building Permit Application form, plans including additional materials, and required fees to the Permit Center. You can also submit electronically via ePlans. When review fees are paid, your project status is changed to "In Review" and assigned to review staff.

2. Plan Review

Depending on your proposed project, plans will be reviewed by various disciplines. Types of reviews include planning and zoning, structural and fire. The assigned reviewers check to see that your proposal is in compliance with the specific code or regulation. If the reviewer needs additional information or has identified corrections they will request information from you in writing in the form of a comment letter (see step 2a.)

2a. Comment Letter

A comment letter is sent when a reviewer needs additional information or a correcting needs to be made to the plans. Once a comment letter is sent the reviewer takes no further action until you provide a response to the comment letter.

2b. Revise Plans

Once you receive a comment letter and have gathered the additional information or made the corrections, bring the information to the Permit Center*. Complete and timely responses will speed up the re-review of the project.
If the revisions are complete, the reviewer will sign off and the project will move on in the process (see step 3). If the reviewer needs additional information or has identified additional corrections they will request this information from you in writing in another comment letter (return to steps 2a and 2b).

3. Plans Approved, Permit Issued

When all required reviews are approved, you will be notified of your final fee total and that your permit is ready. You will pay the balance due and pick up your permit* at the Permit Center, located on the 1st floor of City Hall at 415 W. 6th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660
(Permit Center hours: Monday-Friday 8 am-4 pm; Wednesday 9 am-4 pm  Closed daily from 12:30-1:30 pm)

4. Inspections

When you pick up your permit*, you will receive an inspection card listing all of the inspections you will need during construction. Inspections can be scheduled online or by calling (360) 619-1200. When all of your inspections are approved, you will receive a final inspection and your project is complete.

* Steps completed electronically when utilizing ePlans.

+ Things to Consider

The permit process differs for each permit type and may also vary depending on how complex your project is. Below are general guidelines to follow when applying for a permit. You can submit most applications electronically using ePlans.


Always check the jurisdiction of the property online to determine whether it is inside City limits.

Are there any site constraints on your project?

  • Clearly drawn plans accurately describing all of your proposed work will be required
  • Determine which permit forms are required based on your proposed commercial project
When is an architect required?

An architect is required for the following:

  • New construction of all non-residential buildings and structures over 4,000 square feet
  • New construction of all residential buildings containing more than 4 dwelling units (including townhouses or row-houses)
  • Tenant improvements or remodels in spaces more than 4,000 square feet
  • If the remodel or tenant improvement involves an area less than 4,000 square feet AND is in a building that is 4,000 square feet or larger, then an architect must be involved if there are structural changes or life safety changes (as in exits, fire alarms or fire sprinklers affected, or other life safety items such as change-of-use or occupancy).

Please note: The total square feet of a building includes the total of all levels and all outdoor covered areas like porches, drive-thru canopies, etc.

The practice of architecture is defined in and regulated through RCW 18.08. This link is helpful in understanding the roles and responsibilities of architects, engineers and other design professionals. www.dol.wa.gov/business/designproguidelines/architectdocguide.html

When is engineering required?

An engineer is required for the design of structural work which does not conform to the prescriptive requirements of the currently adopted IBC.  When the structure of an engineered building is modified an engineer is normally required to design this work.  The city’s permit document requirements closely follow the State requirements regulating the engineering profession.

For Engineering definitions please visit: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=18.43.020  

Under state law and the building code the Building official has the authority to make the final determination on what documents will be accepted for building permit application.

When are are separate fire protection permits required?

Fire alarms, fire sprinklers and other fire protection systems require separate permits. Fire Protection Contractor information

Backflow and Cross-Connection Prevention

Many commercial uses require backflow or cross-connection prevention. State and local laws require that you install and maintain a backflow prevention device on your service line and have it inspected yearly by a certified tester. Backflow and Cross-Connection Prevention

Grease Trap

Restaurants or commercial kitchens, including coffee kiosks, that discharge food grease to the sewer system require a grease trap or interceptor. For additional information contact the City Grease Trap program staff. For properties located:


Multi-family building address designations, (e.g. Building A, Building B), are determined by emergency service regulations. For additional information regarding addressing contact Bryan Monroe at bryan.monroe@cityofvancouver.us


Grading permits are required for nearly all projects that include the disturbing or moving of more than 10 cubic yards of earth or vegetation.

Other Agencies

Clark County Public Health
Southwest Clean Air Agency
Department of Labor and Industries (State permits required for elevators, boilers, etc.)

+ What's needed? (submittal requirements)

The following items will need to be submitted when applying for a commercial building permit:

  • Completed and signed application (property owner signature is required)
  • Fees associated with the application
  • Three complete sets of clearly drawn plans accurately describing all of your proposed work (or submit electronically using ePlans)
  • Energy code forms
  • Licensed contractor information (if available)

+ Codes, Design Requirements, Setbacks

Development in the City of Vancouver requires conformance with all adopted building codes, all land use regulations, and the City's design and construction standards.

Building Codes and Regulations

Vancouver Municipal Code - Title 20 (Land Use and Development)

Vancouver Municipal Code - Title 17 (Building and Construction)

+ Septic Systems and Wells

These programs are managed by Clark County Public Health.

For additional information regarding on-site septic systems please visit: site septic systems
For additional information regarding private wells please visit: drinking water and wells

+ Fees

The cost of your permit is based on several factors. For a project specific fee quote please complete the Building Permit Fee Quote form.