Miami-Dade County

Getting permits for home renovations can be a pain. Miami wants to make it easier.

Miami is promising homeowners a less complicated process for obtaining permits to do home renovations such as replacing windows and installing new doors.
Miami is promising homeowners a less complicated process for obtaining permits to do home renovations such as replacing windows and installing new doors. jflechas@miamiherald.com

Something as simple as installing a new front door, putting up a shed in your backyard or redoing your windows might be easier to do in Miami under a new initiative by the city’s administration.

The city is promising residents a faster process to receive permits for work such as installing garage doors, fencing or a burglar alarm. Beginning April 9, City Hall employees will be responsible for running permits between multiple municipal departments for approvals instead of leaving that work to homeowners, their contractors or facilitators paid to navigate Miami’s bureaucracy.

“We’re focused on unclogging our processes every day,” said Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, in a statement. “The new expedited permit process has us doing the legwork, and gives residents the ability to oversee the process without it being a burden.”

Getting permits can be so frustrating that some homeowners might do unpermitted work on their properties because it’s easier. Commissioner Manolo Reyes, whose District 4 stretches from Silver Bluff to Flagami, said he’s spoken with residents who have given up on waiting for permits.

“Some said, ‘Listen, it’s too much of a hassle,’” he said.

The new practice aims to expedite the flow of more than 50 types of residential and commercial permits through Miami’s bureaucracy. The types of work that are eligible for expedited permits include pre-fabricated sheds, driveways, awnings, solar panels and window replacements.

“The best part of having a new mayor and administration is they have the ability to completely overhaul failed processes,” said Commissioner Ken Russell.

Not all permits will get processed internally by the city. Not included in the new program: permits requiring tree removal and those for structures in a historic district or in Neighborhood Conservation District 3 in Coconut Grove. Also, permits requiring a waiver, warrant exception, variance or replat will not be expedited.

The transfer of permit running will come at no additional cost to taxpayers or applicants, said Eugene Ramirez, city spokesman.

“There’s no additional cost, no additional staff and no additional overtime required,” he said. “Employees are simply providing a more efficient customer service and saving residents valuable time.”

Permit applications are found online, but the paperwork must be notarized and submitted in person. Once all the required documents and plans are submitted, people can track the status of their applications using a unique building department number issued to them. If city reviewers from any department point out necessary changes or have questions that need to be answered, the city will contact the applicant and allow seven days for the issue to be resolved. Two seven-day periods are allowed in order for the permit to be processed within 30 days.

Gonzalez and Commissioner Joe Carollo have both publicly said they wish to eliminate the need for “expeditors,” or people who are paid by homeowners and contractors to run plans and papers from one department to another.

“For any homeowner or small business owner, it’s been made impossible for them to move their permitting quickly,” Carollo said. He also said some expeditors can develop relationships with city staff that make the permit approval process unfair for the average property owner.

On Thursday, expeditors and a contractor in the waiting area at the city’s downtown administration building told the Miami Herald there are some bad apples who are either incompetent or try to cheat the system, but the majority are simply making a business of helping people navigate a Byzantine system.

Some skeptics, thinking the city is biting off more than it can chew, weren’t worried about their business and felt they would still be hired to turn in the applications and keep an eye on them as the paperwork moves through the new city process. If plans aren’t perfect, they still need to move back and forth between homeowners, their architects and/or contractors, and the city.

Natalie Lopez, an expeditor and a Miami resident, was more worried and wished the city would’ve asked for their input on how to make permitting move faster.

“They should make changes with information from the people that know,” she said.

The city expects to move most of its permit review process online by the end of the year, which officials hope will expedite the process for most people and companies looking for building permits.

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