Thinking of building a retaining wall or rockery wall on your property and wondering if you’ll need to file for a permit? Any time of year is a great time to start your hardscaping project. The best professional to hire for the job is a landscaper or a hardscaping contractor who is skilled in masonry, concrete or excavation. You may be able to tackle a small project on your own and there are usually a good selection of materials at your local hardware store.

retaining wall permits

Do I need a permit to build a retaining wall?

As a general rule, remodeling your home or property, which includes new construction, additions or alterations, requires a permit. Specifically this permit is called a construction permit. The exact type of permit required depends upon the scope and scale of the retaining wall, the codes, zoning rules and regulations of where you live, any environmental impact, and what type of structure you plan to build. The codes and regulations established by your city, town or county will determine what types of projects require a construction permit and what what types of permits you’ll need to file. Your first step should be to contact your local government agency and search their department of planning and development website or office. According to the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, for example, any retaining wall or rockery construction that is built higher than 4 feet will require a construction permit. Although most agencies require little information at time of permit application filing, most cities have specific zoning laws about the size and length of the wall as it relates to the size of the home and as it relates to your property lines. It’s imperative to research the codes of your local jurisdiction prior to drawing up your retaining plans.

retaining wall permit

What information do I need to file for a construction permit to build a retaining wall?

The specifics required may vary slightly from county to county but in general, several items will be necessary to obtain a permit. For a construction permit, the information required by the local government agency may be minimal (you’ll want to verify exactly what type of information is required before filing). You may only need to provide a set of drawings for the retaining wall and in some instances, these drawings will need to be stamped by the professional. The drawings, along with the specifications of your home (square footage, property details) will be needed as each city has specific zoning laws for retaining walls and rockery.

retaining wall permits

Can I file a construction permit for my retaining wall on my own?

The short answer is “yes” however be sure to research your local agency’s specific requirements. For most retaining walls requiring a permit, a standard construction permit may be filed over the counter with minimal information required. More complex or complicated remodeling projects require more information (sometimes provided by a team of professionals). This is especially true if your retaining wall project is being constructed near an environmentally critical area, will attach to a permanent structure, or requires extensive excavation. If that is the case, then a professional may need to be hired to perform the necessary studies for this project and fill out the appropriate paperwork. It may be in the homeowner’s best interest to have the home improvement professional file the entire series of permits on the homeowner’s behalf. When in doubt, check with your local office to verify if you can file this type of construction permit without the need of a professional.

retaining wall permits

How do I file for a retaining wall construction permit?

Before you do anything, check with your local government agency regarding what information you need to provide during the permit filing process. A simple web search, phone call or in-person Q&A will save you a lot of time right from the beginning. Start by going to the website of your local governing agency and search for the Department of Planning and Development. Very often this site will host a number of frequently asked questions and answers, online brochures or other tips to help get you started.  Once you have all the information in place, and have your designs and materials specified, you will need to fill out a form with the permitting office (usually available online). For retaining wall projects, very often the construction permit may be granted over-the-counter the same day you file.

retaining wall permits

How long does it take to receive a retaining wall construction permit approval?

Again, the answer will depend on the agency where you live and what you plan on building. Once the permit application is reviewed, very often the deck construction permit may be granted over-the-counter the same you file. If your construction project is more complicated, and an intake interview may need to be scheduled with possible “corrections” to your application. A correction is another way of requesting further information from the homeowner. Some government agencies have an online permit tracking program in which you can actually track the progress of your permit.

retaining wall permits

How much does it cost to get a retaining wall construction permit?

Permitting fees vary from region to region and will depend upon the size and scale and value of the project. Most goverment agencies have a specific fee formula based on type of home (i.e. Single Family Residential), type of project, value of project and square footage. To get the most accurate information contact your local agency.

retaining wall permits

How do I receive my retaining wall construction permit?

Permits are usually picked up in person upon approval. Most agencies will contact the filer (by phone, mail or email) regarding pick-up time.

retaining wall permits

What happens if I don’t get a retaining wall construction permit?

If your local governing agency requires that your retaining wall project requires a construction permit, and you fail to obtain one, a stop-work order may be issued. If work continues against this stop-work order, fines or other legal action may take place.  Check with your local Department of Planning and Development to ensure your project abides by the rules.

Top image credit: Renovation Design Group