Building Entitlements vs Permits

Planning a construction project? Uncover the nuances of building entitlements vs permits in our comparison guide.

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Construction worker holding a roll of blueprints

Building entitlements vs permit – what do you really need to know?

Building entitlements grant you, as the property owner, the legal right to develop your land following the city’s rules. This process involves public hearings and informing the community. On the other hand, building permits are official government approval, ensuring specific construction works comply with health, safety, and building code standards.

The entitlement process kickstarts the building construction, giving you the go-ahead for the project. The permit process comes in later and focuses on the technical aspects of the project.

Understanding the distinctions between building entitlements vs permits is important because without the right approvals, your construction project cannot legally begin. Your construction may not meet safety or legal standards without the right permits.

What Are Building Entitlements?

Building entitlements refer to the legal rights granted to property owners, outlining permissible land use and development activities. The entire process aims to establish the owner’s rights, including density and land use, setting the foundation for a planned construction project.

Entitlements, which are official approvals granted by local authorities, typically come as rezoning or planned unit developments. These approvals entitle you, as the owner or the property developer, to fully use the land as intended.

When Do You Need a Building Entitlement?

Building entitlements play a significant role in land development, especially when there is a misalignment between your planned construction and your current legal permissions. Entitlements are necessary whether you’re embarking on a project on a new piece of land, changing the use of an existing property, or making significant alterations to a building’s exterior.

Essentially, you need to obtain an entitlement when your intended construction deviates from your existing rights as a landowner. This process ensures that your development plans adhere to local regulations, allowing you to secure the necessary approvals for your project to proceed legally and in accordance with the intended land use.

Proceeding with construction work without obtaining the necessary entitlement can have severe consequences. It may result in costly repercussions, such as demolishing portions of the construction or redoing the entire project to align with regulatory requirements.

Common Situations Requiring Building Entitlements

Some common situations where building entitlements are needed include:

  • Developing Empty Land: You’ll need entitlements when developing an empty land.
  • New Building (Ground-up build): When you’re putting up a completely new building, you’ll need to go through the entitlement process.
  • Changing how a Building Is Used (Change of Use): If you’re turning a place into something different, for example, converting an office building into a hotel, you’ll need a change of use permit.
  • Making Significant Changes to a Property: If you’re making major changes to a property exterior or façade, you’ll need to get entitlements.

Types of Entitlements

Various categories of building entitlements exist, each playing a crucial role in land development. The three common main types include:

  1. Zoning Entitlements: These are permissions from local authorities specifying how you can use your land. Zoning regulations dictate whether an area is designated for residential, commercial, industrial, or mixed-use purposes. Getting zoning entitlements ensures your project matches what the local zoning laws allow.
  2. Land Use Entitlements: These entitlements grant approval for the intended purpose or function of the proposed project. Obtaining land use entitlements involves demonstrating how the development conforms to the broader goals of community planning and land use policies.
  3. Environmental Entitlements: These entitlements ensure your construction project adheres to environmental regulations and standards. This includes assessments and approvals related to potential impacts on the surrounding ecosystem. Environmental entitlements may involve studies on air quality, water usage, habitat preservation, and other factors to mitigate the project’s adverse effects on the environment.

Who Issues Entitlements?

Entitlements are typically issued by local government authorities, Depending on the nature of the entitlement. These issuing authorities can include:

  • Municipal or city planning departments
  • Zoning boards
  • Environmental agencies
  • Utility department
  • Road department

The specific issuing authority may vary based on the type of entitlement and the regulations of the locality where the construction project is taking place.

How to Apply for Building Entitlements

The process for securing building entitlements might vary slightly between jurisdictions, but here’s a general guide to help you navigate the application process efficiently:

  1. Identify Needed Entitlements. Determine the specific entitlements required based on your project’s scope and local regulations. Common ones include use permits, zoning variances, and site plan approval.
  2. Research Local Requirements. Understand local building requirements applicable to your project. Ensure your project plans align with the municipality’s criteria.
  3. Prepare Documentation. Gather necessary documents like site plans and environmental assessments to support your application.
  4. Submit Your Application. Submit your application to relevant governmental departments, such as the City Planning Commission and zoning. Thorough submissions increase entitlement approval chances.
  5. Follow Up and Monitor. Stay proactive by regularly following up with agencies. This ensures your application progresses smoothly and allows you to address any issues promptly.

What Is the Permit Process?

Once the entitlement is approved, the project can move forward to secure building permits. This marks the next crucial step in the construction process. The building permitting process is your official green light from the local government to construct or modify a structure. Whether it’s a new build, expansion, or repair, this approval ensures your proposed project aligns with vital regulations, covering building standards, land use, and environmental protection.

Obtaining a permit goes beyond mere paperwork; it ensures your construction project meets safety standards. This process safeguards current and future occupants by addressing key aspects like structural integrity, zoning, sanitation, water and sewer lines, fire protection, and electrical service. 

In some cases, you can get entitlements and permits at the same time, making construction quicker. This is often the case for projects such as “ground-up” construction or “change of use” projects. However, it’s worth noting that regulations and procedures differ based on where you live and the nature of the proposed project.

Types of Permits

  1. Building Permits: Grants official approval for your new construction or modifications, ensuring compliance with building standards, land use, and environmental regulations.
  2. Environmental Permits: These are required for projects impacting the environment, ensuring adherence to regulations on air quality, water quality, and wildlife habitats.
  3. Special Use Permits: If your project falls outside standard zoning rules, acquire these permits to grant permission for unique property uses not typically allowed by the zoning district.

For a comprehensive list of permits for construction, read our in-depth article here.

Key Differences: Building Entitlements vs Permits

Here are the key distinctions between building entitlements and permits:

1. Purpose

  • Entitlements: Focus on the structure’s intended use, conformity to city plans, and the design of the proposed structure.
  • Permits: Ensure construction aligns with health, safety, and building code standards.

2. Timing

  • Entitlements: Obtained before permits, issued upon approval for a specific use involving public processes.
  • Permits: Obtained after entitlements, focusing on code compliance during construction.

3. Legal Distinctions

  • Entitlements: Represent overarching legal approval, granting the right to use the site as intended.
  • Permits: Permissions obtained post-entitlement, ensuring project compliance with codes and standards.

4. Duration and Renewal Variances

  • Entitlements: Typically have a longer duration, tied to land use and development plans, and may require renewal.
  • Permits: Generally for a specific construction project and may not require renewal once completed.


Understanding the differences between building entitlements and permits is crucial for a successful construction project. While entitlements focus on land use and development plans, permits ensure adherence to safety standards and codes.

Explore our streamlined services at GreenLite — your expert in navigating the permit process. Our specialized assistance expedites approvals, ensuring a smooth path for your construction endeavors. Ready to fast-track your project? Contact us today.


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