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Rebuilding Together

Frequently Asked Questions About Rebuilding

Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to rebuilding after the Sonoma Complex Fires. FAQs are grouped by category.

Last updated December 8, 2017

Accessory Dwelling Units and Non-Dwelling Accessory Structures

What is the difference between an Accessory Dwelling Unit vs. a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit vs. a guest house?

Structure TypeAccessory Dwelling UnitJunior Accessory Dwelling UnitGuest House
StructureMay be attached to or detached from the main dwelling.Must be created from, and within the footprint of, an existing, legally permitted bedroom that shares at least 1 full wall with the rest of the home.
KitchenMust have a full kitchen.Must have an efficiency kitchen. (See "Efficiency kitchen" Sec. 26-02-140)Cannot have a kitchen or wet bar.
BathroomMust have a full bathroom.Must have direct access to a bathroom, either inside the unit or in the main house.May have a half or full bath.
Long-Term RentalCan be rented.Can be rented.Cannot be rented or occupied separately from the main house.
Transient RentalMay not be used as a vacation rental.May not be used as a vacation rental.May be able to be used as part of a vacation rental or hosted rental with a zoning permit.
Z Combining DistrictProhibited in the Z Combining District.Allowed in the Z Combining District.Allowed in the Z Combining District.
Size LimitCannot exceed 1,000 square feet.Cannot exceed 500 square feet.Cannot exceed 640 square feet.
PermitsUsually requires a Zoning Permit.Allowed with a Building Permit in all zones where residences are allowed.Allowed with a Building Permit in all residential and agricultural zones.
More InformationAccessory Dwelling UnitsJunior Accessory Dwelling UnitsPJR-012 Guest House (PDF)
Zoning CodeSec. 26-88-060Sec. 26-88-061"Guest house" Sec. 26-02-140


Can I build an accessory dwelling unit to live in before constructing my primary residence?

In most cases you can build an accessory dwelling unit on your property and live in it before you rebuild your main house as long as your parcel is at least 1.5 acres in size and you have adequate septic capacity and water yield.

If your property is served by public water and sewer, you can build an accessory dwelling unit if your parcel is at least 5,000 square feet in size. Accessory units can be up to 1,000 square feet if your parcel is at least 2 acres in size or served by public sewer and water. If your parcel is under 2 acres and is on well and septic, an accessory unit of up to 640 square feet is allowed.

Caution: There are other zoning restrictions, so please visit the zoning desk at Permit Sonoma to find out if your property qualifies for an accessory unit. You may also call to speak with a Planner.


Can I convert a portion of my home into a Junior Dwelling Unit when I rebuild?

Yes, if the rebuild is converting a bedroom to a Junior Dwelling Unit by adding an efficiency kitchen it can be permitted with a building and zoning permit. If the rebuild is to convert existing space into a bedroom or add a bedroom for a Junior Dwelling Unit, it will be subject to these requirements for the non-bedroom space:

  1. The room to be converted shares at least one full wall with the existing single family dwelling.
  2. The room is permitted as a new legal bedroom and meets the standards for a Junior Dwelling Unit. This includes meeting all permit requirements (e.g. Building Permits, Well and/or Septic permits, etc.).
  3. The Building Permit for the new bedroom is finaled, and,
  4. The permit for a Junior Dwelling Unit is issued.

If you are rebuilding as a result damage or destruction from the Sonoma Complex Fire you may apply to have a non-bedroom space converted into a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit with the same building permit provided there is adequate septic or sewer capacity available.

More information on the siting requirements and development standards for Junior Dwelling Units


Can I add a new bedroom outside the existing footprint of my single family dwelling and then convert it into a Junior Dwelling Unit or an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

Yes, homes destroyed by fire can be rebuilt and expanded to add additional units, including a Junior Dwelling Unit by converting a bedroom to add an efficiency kitchen that meets the development standards for Junior Dwelling Units; or by adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit. The property must meet the site requirements for minimum parcel size and water availability and have adequate septic capability, and the unit must meet the design and development standards. Junior and Accessory Dwelling units do not count towards the maximum allowable density. Both type of units can be added to a residential site with the primary dwelling unit if the standards can be met.

More information on the siting requirements and development standards for Junior Dwelling Units


Non-Dwelling

Can I rebuild a garage or other accessory structure or continue an accessory use prior to rebuilding my home?

Yes. The County can authorize reconstruction of an accessory structure on a case-by-case basis. In most cases all proposed structures should be submitted with the Site Plan required with any building plan sets. The site plan and building permits for all associated structures can then be approved at the same time.

Building/Construction

Can my house be rebuilt if it is destroyed by fire or flood?

Yes, any legal dwelling unit destroyed by fire or flood can be rebuilt. Current building code requirements would be applied and the septic system may need to be brought into compliance with current codes.

  • Non-conforming dwellings (those built legally but which do not meet current setbacks or density) can generally be rebuilt.
  • Houses that meet the allowable density but do not meet the setbacks may be rebuilt on the original footprint (i.e. same size and location) and can be expanded in size provided that the improvements do not increase the non-conforming portion of the structure, such as encroaching further into the setback.)
  • Houses destroyed by fire that exceed the allowable density may also be rebuilt at the same size and location, but expansion is limited to a maximum of 10% of the original floor area.


When a home is rebuilt, must it be built in compliance with current building codes?

Yes, the code in effect now is the 2016 California Residential Code, as amended and adopted by Sonoma County. For more information, visit 2016 California Residential Code


Can I rebuild my home on its original footprint even if it would not meet the current Riparian Corridor setbacks?

If your original home was legally constructed before the Riparian Corridor regulations went into effect, your replacement home may be constructed on the same footprint as the original house. However, you are encouraged to locate your replacement home further away from the river or stream if feasible. No planning permit is required as long as the replacement home is not any larger than the original house.


Will I need to upgrade my driveway entrance when rebuilding after the fire?

We will not require driveway entrance upgrades for rebuilds due to the Sonoma Complex Fire. This policy modification only applies to rebuilds destroyed by the Sonoma Complex Fire. Current policy is still in effect for everything else.


Green Building/CALGreen

When rebuilding, do I need to do Energy Calculations and comply with the provisions of CALGreen??

Yes, you will need to do Energy Calculations and you will need to comply with the provision of CALGreen. For more information, visit Residential Plan Checklist


If a home that burned down had an EPA compliant wood stove in it, can another be reinstalled?

It depends. If they are in the northern air quality control district, then yes. If they are in the Bay Area Air Quality Control District, then no. For more information, visit Bay Area Air Quality Control District Wood-burning Device Regulations


Foundation

Can a house be rebuilt on a fire-damaged foundation?

Applicants who wish to use the existing foundation systems must have a “suitability analysis” of the existing foundation performed by a registered civil or structural engineer. This analysis shall state that the engineer has visited the site and investigated the condition of the existing building elements. It shall also state that the remaining foundation is suitable for the support of the new structure, and that all under-slab utility systems (such as drain, waste, vent, water, mechanical, electrical, etc.) are suitable for continued use. Electrical conduits may remain but all under-slab electrical conductors must be replaced.


Can I leave my damaged foundation in place and enclose my old foundation with a new foundation?

Yes, provided the new foundation does not rely on the structural integrity of the old foundation. If you go with the public debris removal option, the Army Corps of Engineers will remove the foundation.

Easements/Rights of Way

Can I store materials in the County right-of-way?

No, you cannot store materials in the County right-of-way.


Can I rebuild a structure within a public or private road easement?

No, you cannot rebuild a structure within a public or private road easement.

Fees and Terms

Will any fees be waived for reconstruction in the fire area?

Development impact fees for schools, parks, traffic, sewer, water and affordable housing do not apply to reconstruction of an existing structure with the same floor area. Impact fees may apply to additional floor area beyond the original structure, such as when a bedroom is added.

Permit processing fees, such as those for building permits and land use permits, will apply to reconstruction and are generally covered by insurance. However, fee reductions or waivers may be considered by the Board of Supervisors for those that are uninsured or underinsured.


Would a new buyer (of a property that was burned) be able to rebuild according to the same terms and policies that are applied to fire victims?

Yes. The terms and policies for rebuilding properties damaged by the fire are in place regardless of ownership.


If I increase the size of my home when I rebuild, will I have to pay permit feels and school fees on the increased square footage?

Development impact fees for schools, parks, traffic, sewer, water and affordable housing do not apply to reconstruction of an existing structure with the same floor area.  Impact fees would apply to additional floor area beyond the original structure, such as when a bedroom is added.  If the size of the original residence is being increased to add an accessory dwelling unit, then park and traffic fees will be reduced or waived in the fire areas.

Fire Safety

Do Wildland Urban Interface (California Building Code Chapter R337 WUI/SRA) construction methods and materials apply to rebuilding?

Yes, these standards do apply within the State Responsibility Area. For more information, visit State Responsibility Area Map Viewer


Fire Sprinklers

Are sprinklers required for all new residential structures?

Yes, they are required for all new residential structures. For more information, visit Wildland-Urban Interface and Sprinkler Related Procedures


Do I need a licensed fire protection contractor to design and install the sprinkler system?

Yes, you need a licensed fire protection contractor to design and install the sprinkler system. For more information, visit Contractor license classifications


Fire Protection Clearing

Must fire clearing and access width requirements be met for all rebuilds in High & Very High Fire Severity Zones?

Yes. This is required in all areas of the County regardless of zones.


What clearing is allowed by the County for fire prevention purposes around buildings?

In general, there are no restrictions to clearing around buildings for fire prevention purposes. However, clearing within a riparian corridor is limited to the minimum necessary and no redwood trees are removed.


Are any permits required to clear up to 100 feet away (Defensible Space) from an existing residence?

No. Clearing for fire protection purposes can be done within 100 feet of existing dwelling units without a permit, provided that clearing is not performed by an excavator or bulldozer. This does not authorize off-site clearing, although clearing in cooperation with your neighbors is encouraged.


If a building permit has been issued for a proposed building, is an additional clearing permit required to clear?

No additional clearing permit is required.


Who is responsible for clearing the brush from around buildings?

The property owner. Sonoma County has a free curbside chipper program that you may want to utilize. More Information


Who enforces the regulations regarding clearance of fuel around buildings?

In coordination with State and Local Fire Districts, Sonoma Fire and the County Code Enforcement Division will work together to enforce weed abatement programs, requiring the clearance of flammable vegetation from around buildings.

Flood Mitigation

Can new structures be placed in the F1 Floodway or F2 Floodplain?

No new structures are allowed in the floodway. New structures may be located in the floodplain, but the building's finished floor must be at least one foot above the base flood elevation. For more information, visit Construction in the F1 Policy


If my home was in the F1 Floodway, can I rebuild it in its existing location?

Yes. A home destroyed or damaged by the Sonoma Complex Fire may be rebuilt on its original foundation footprint if a building permit is issued by December 31, 2019. The home will have to be elevated 1 foot above the base flood elevation. However, it is strongly encouraged that the home be rebuilt outside of the hazard zone if feasible. For more information, visit Construction in the F1 Policy


If my home was in the F2 Floodplain, can I rebuild it in its existing location?

Yes, and the home will have to be elevated 1 foot above the base flood elevation. For more information, visit Sonoma County Code 7B-Flood Damage Prevention

Permits

Is a Building Permit required to repair damage to a structure?

Yes. A Permit is required for repairs and construction pursuant to State Code (2016 California Residential Code, Section R105.1 and Sonoma County Code 7-13). The review of repair permit applications will be streamlined. For more information, visit Sonoma County Code 7-13


What documents are needed for a Building Permit?


Will the County require evidence of a legal lot prior to issuance of a new building permit?

Yes, the County will require evidence of a legal lot prior to the issuance of a new building permit.


If I had an issued permit on a parcel that was burned down, what happens with that permit and fees?

In most cases, we will close the permit and issue a new one. The fees for the new permit will be prorated based on what milestone the project reached prior to the fire.


Is a Demolition Permit required for removal of a building or portions of a building that were damaged or destroyed by a fire?

No. Permit Sonoma is not issuing a demolition permit for the removal of buildings that were damaged or destroyed by a fire. Your debris removal process will be administered by Department of Health Services Environmental Health. More Information


Do I need a Grading Permit to rebuild?

If a homeowner wishes to reconstruct structures in approximately the pre-fire footprint, with minor additional grading then a grading permit in most cases will not be required. (See the County Grading Ordinance and site erosion control Best Management Practices (BMPs) for site stabilization methods.)


Can I obtain a building permit on a parcel that has a red or yellow Rapid Evaluation Safety Assessment (RESA) tag?

Generally, the answer is no. If you are rebuilding in the same footprint as the burned structure(s), the answer is no. You cannot obtain a permit until after the site is cleaned. However, if you are building in a different location on the parcel that does not have fire damage, the answer may be yes. If you have site specific exceptions to discuss, please contact Permit Sonoma.


How long do I have to rebuild my permanent residence?

There is no time limit on when you have to start rebuilding your home provided that your property is zoned residential or agricultural and the number of homes on your property is consistent with zoning. If your home was considered legal non-conforming, you will need to obtain a building permit by December 31, 2019. Building and grading permits issued by Permit Sonoma expire in three years from the date of permit issuance.


We have a greenhouse that was built by previous owner without permits. Do we need a permit to rebuild this greenhouse?

Yes, a building permit is generally required. However, a building permit may not be required if the greenhouse is a prefabricated structure of less than 500 square feet and meets other criteria.  See When is a Building Permit Not Required

The size limitation for greenhouses in the RR (Rural Residential), AR (Agriculture and Residential) and RRD (Resource and Rural Development) zones is 800 square feet. In agricultural zones (LIA, LEA, DA) the size limitation is 2,500 square feet. Please visit the New Link Zoning Desk at Permit Sonoma or call to speak to a Planner for more information.


Can I replace burned existing fence without re-permitting?

The fence can be replaced without a building permit if it is a maximum of 7 feet tall for a solid fence or 10 feet if with lattice. If the fence is over 6 feet (or over 3 feet in the front yard), a use permit is required.


If I had an issued permit on a parcel that was burned down, what happens with that permit and fees?

In most cases, we will close the permit and issue a new one. The fees for the new permit will be prorated based on what milestone the project reached prior to the fire.

Planning and Zoning

Is the new building required to meet all zoning requirements standards, including setbacks?

Residential Buildings: A residential building that was legally constructed may be rebuilt on its original foundation footprint, even if it does not meet current setback requirements. If the residential building is rebuilt in another location on the property, it must meet current setback requirements and all other development standards.

Commercial and Industrial Buildings: A commercial or industrial building may also be reconstructed on the original foundation footprint as long as the fire damage does not exceed 50% of the building's replacement value.


Can I reestablish a legal nonconforming commercial use that was located on a residentially zoned property?

A legally established commercial use may be reestablished on a residentially zoned parcel as long as the fire damage does not exceed 50% of the building's replacement value. Otherwise, the new use on the property will have to comply with the current residential zoning.


Will my house plans for reconstruction be subject to Design Review?

Design review is only required on sites in the Scenic Resource zone. Permit Sonoma may waive the design review requirement in the burn areas if the new home design is similar to the original home and design standards are met. If design review is required, Permit Sonoma will expedite this review to minimize delays in building permit processing.

Private Bridges

What do I do if my bridge was burned in the fire?

  1. Determine whether the bridge needs to be repaired or replaced.
  2. Visit or contact Permit Sonoma.
  3. Submit permit application. The Design Criteria for Bridges technical bulletin provides additional details on the building requirements.


What type of contractor can perform repairs on private bridges?

Only Class A Engineering contractors can perform repairs on private bridges. Neither Class B General Contractors nor owner/builders can perform these repairs. For more information, visit Contractor license classifications.


I am a private bridge owner. Can I simply rebuild on undamaged foundations or are there new requirements that I’d need to meet?

The bridge abutments need to be evaluated and certified by a licensed civil or structural engineer. The bridge must meet required load carrying capacity. Additional requirements may apply to bridge repairs and replacements. Please see Design Criteria for Bridges technical bulletin for more information.


More Information on Private Bridges

Records

How is the County determining the square footage of structures that were on my property prior to the fire?

The square footage will be determined from information on Permit records; Assessor records; Records provided by Owner; and Documents providing dimensions and layout.


How do I get copies of my building plans and/or parcel records?

Building plans and parcel records may be stored at Permit Sonoma on at least three types of media: Paper files, microfiche files, and scanned computer images. Customers can view their paper files, microfiche files, or scanned image plans and print letter size (8.5” x 11”) copies at the Permit Sonoma office. If you want to get full size prints, Digital Prints Imaging (DPI) can print them for you. To order these prints:

  1. Let Permit Sonoma’s Records staff know about your request by contacting (707) 565-2934;
  2. Submit a request to DPI by contacting them at (707) 546-0401;
  3. Come pick them up at Permit Sonoma when the prints are ready.

More Records Information


Where can I get my plans if Permit Sonoma's Records Counter doesn’t have them? (Example: If the house was built before Permit Sonoma started keeping records.)

You might be able to obtain your building plans from the original developer or design professionals. You may need to have plans redrawn.


Where can I find a copy of the original soil testing that was completed for the original structure?

If a soils report was originally submitted to Permit Sonoma with a permit application, then you can contact Permit Sonoma's Records staff to obtain a copy.

More Records Information

Temporary Housing

Can I have a Tiny Home?

A tiny home may be allowed for use as temporary housing if it meets California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regulations and is registered through DMV as a travel trailer or it is approved through the California Department of Housing & Communities Development (HCD) as a manufactured or factory built home. It may be allowed as permanent housing if it is approved through HCD as a manufactured or factory built home and meets current applicable local building codes.


Can I live in a trailer or RV on my property while rebuilding a home?

Yes, you can live in a trailer or RV on your residential or agricultural parcel while rebuilding your home as long as you have obtained a temporary permit from Permit Sonoma. The fee for the temporary permit is $83. Once the application is submitted, a permit will be issued if all basic conditions can be met:

  • An electrical permit for any necessary hookups;
  • Wastewater disposal approved by Environmental Health;
  • The site is not at risk for landslides or debris flow;
  • The placement of the temporary trailer or RV does not preclude rebuilding

The Temporary Permit may be revoked if the terms and conditions of the permit have been violated. Otherwise, the permit will expire once final inspection of your new home is complete.


What fees apply to temporary occupancy RV in Burned sites where owners are re-building and Non-burned sites that owners allow burn rebuilders to occupy while rebuilding?

The fee for temporary use of a travel trailer or RV by a property owner while reconstructing a home is $83.


How long can I live in the RV on my burnt out property?

2 years, with one-year extensions possible if rebuild is in process.


How Many RVs can I have on my property?

The number of RVs will be limited by the existing septic capacity or size of holding tanks.


Can Manufactured homes be used for temporary housing?

On a burned site, manufactured units are allowed for use as temporary housing with a Temporary Emergency Housing permit. The Temporary Emergency Housing permit costs have been reduced to $83.00 for fire victims. Permanent foundations for temporary housing are not allowed. In burn areas, a temporary Emergency Housing unit can be located in the setbacks, but shall avoid septic and leach field areas and other site constraints.

If you want the manufactured home to remain permanently either within or outside the burn areas, you must apply for a building permit following the standard application process, not a temporary occupancy permit. This would require a permanent foundation. Manufactured homes can be approved as a primary unit or an accessory unit. For Accessory Dwelling Units, there are size limitations and standards that must be met. A permanent Accessory Dwelling Unit must meet all required setbacks and must meet one of the following requirements: expand the septic system, agree to a bedroom swap with the main unit, or connect to sewer.

Vacation Rentals and Hosted Rentals

Can I get a new vacation rental or hosted rental permit?

The County of Sonoma is accepting hosted rental applications in all unincorporated Sonoma County. A moratorium on new vacation rentals is currently in effect in all areas of unincorporated Sonoma County, except the Russian River Planning Area. The moratorium, which is in effect until February 3, 2018, is intended to temporarily preserve the County’s existing housing stock to house people displaced by the fire.

A vacation rental is defined as the rental of a private residence for periods of 30 days or less. Hosted rentals are the rental of a single room or sleeping area within a single-family dwelling, where the property owner remains in residence. Both vacation rentals and hosted rentals are subject to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). Houses or rooms rented for more than 30 days are not subject to the tax. Properties located in the Coastal Zone (e.g., The Sea Ranch, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Duncan Mills, etc.) are exempt from the moratorium, but are required to be registered with the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) Program.

More Information on the Moratorium


Are there any changes to existing vacation rental permits?

No. The ordinance does not affect existing vacation rental and hosted rental permits that have been approved and issued.

Well & Septic

If my home is on a private well, do I need to have the well tested?

Property owners are encouraged to have their private water wells tested to ensure they have safe potable water. However, well testing is not a requirement to re-occupy a property. More Well Water Quality Information


If my septic system or water well is damaged and I need to construct a new one, do setbacks apply for the new septic system or well water?

Yes.


What are my options if any piece of my septic system is on a neighboring parcel?

There are three options:

  1. Voluntary mergers are strongly encouraged.
    However, when a voluntary merger is not possible, other options include:
  2. A lot line adjustment.
  3. An easement.

Existing conditions prior to the fire would apply. No new requirements would be imposed to reconnect to existing septic systems in these cases.


If my septic system was damaged/destroyed and doesn't meet current standard requirements, can I replace or repair it in the same location?

Yes, you can repair it in the same location. For replacements, a system must meet current standard requirements when replaced.


Do I need a permit to repair my fire damaged septic system?


Do I need a permit to replace septic systems?

Yes.


If I need to replace my septic system and I don't have a reserve area, can I do it?

The replacement septic system would need to meet current standards. We recommend you discuss your options with a qualified consultant, such as a civil engineer.


Can I enlarge my house during the rebuild without upgrading my septic system?

You can enlarge your house by 640 square feet with an existing class III septic system. A class III septic system is a system with a septic tank and a leach field. If the house is enlarged by more than 640 square feet, you will need to upgrade your septic system.

Contact Information

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