Change of Use
Changing the use or occupancy type of a building can present many challenges. In a change of use, modifications may need to be made to the building or space to bring the area up to code for the particular occupancy classification it will now be used for. (Grandfathering rules don’t apply for most sections of the building codes when the use of a building is altered.) For example, an old house that is to be used as an office building must comply with the most recent life safety code requirements, such as exiting, for a new office building.
Before you consider purchasing, renting or leasing a site for your business, we encourage you to contact the Development Services Departments listed below to help determine what modifications to the building or space may be required. An even better option would be to schedule a Pre-Development Conference to arrange a meeting with all of these departments at the same time.
- Department of Building Services (509) 625-6114
- Fire Department Construction Plan Reviewer (509) 625-7056
- Department of Planning Services (509) 625-6300
- Department of Engineering Services (509) 625-6700
- Solid Waste Management Department (509) 625-7871
- Spokane Regional Health District (509) 324-1560
Notes from the Pre-Development Conference that outline the general requirements will be compiled and sent to you usually within a week of your meeting.
What is a Change of Use?
Every building is given an occupancy classification as determined by Chapter 3 of the International Building Code (IBC) when it is originally built. Each classification has different code requirements based upon the type of hazards or uses within the building. A change of use is when there is a change in the authorized occupancy type of the building that would amend the way the IBC characterizes the use or occupancy type of the building.
Most often, buildings are constructed to the minimum code requirements that apply for the use in which the building was originally intended. Thus, there is a need to review plans and inspect the modifications made when the use of a building changes to ensure the building can support the life safety and parking requirements of the new occupancy type. For instance, there will be different exiting, fire wall/separation, and parking requirements that will need to be met to allow a day care facility or store to be placed in an office building. A less obvious example of a change of use is when a restaurant that has seating for less than 50 wants to increase the number of seats.
It is important to keep in mind that the legal use of the building may not be its most recent actual use. This means that a change of use permit may be required even if you don’t plan to make any changes to the building or how the building is currently being used. The authorized use or occupancy type is identified on a building’s Certificate of Occupancy. Once all permits have approved final inspections AND after each department involved in developer services has provided their approvals, a new Certificate of Occupancy will be issued authorizing occupancy of the building or space under its new use.
Does My Project Need a Change of Use Permit?
To determine if a change of use permit will be required, you must first find out what the legal use of the space is. This information is identified on the building’s Certificate of Occupancy. The Certificate of Occupancy (CO) should be on site. If not ask the property manager, or:
- If the building was constructed or renovated prior to 1993, then you may be able to find a copy of the CO in the microfiche accessible from the Permit Center on the 3rd Floor of City Hall.
- If the building was erected after 1993, then a digital copy may be available in our archives if you send an email to email@example.com and request a copy.
Next, review Chapter 3 of the International Building Code (IBC) to determine the occupancy classification needed for how you intend to utilize the building or space. Copyright laws prevent us from posting copies of the codes to our website. The IBC can be ordered online, purchased through most book stores, or can be found at many libraries. The IBC has provided this link to Chapter 3: http://publicecodes.citation.com/icod/ibc/2009/icod_ibc_2009_3_section.htm?bu=IC-P-2009-000001&bu2=IC-P-2009-000019
- If the Occupancy Group, Occupant Load, and Fire Sprinkler Requirements identified on the existing CO are identical to what is intended AND no modifications beyond painting or carpeting are being performed then a permit will not usually be required.
- If the CO is not consistent with the intended use; OR if any modifications will be made to the building or tenant space, then a permit will be required.
If you are unable to make these determinations, please feel free to visit the Permit Center on the 3rd Floor of City Hall and ask to speak with one our Plans Examiners.
How do I apply for a Change of Use Permit?
To apply for a change of use permit, contact the Permit Center Receptionist at (509) 625-6300 to schedule an intake meeting. At the intake meeting, you will need to submit a completed commercial building permit application along with 3 complete sets of plans, 11 additional site plans, and all other requirements identifed in the commercial application packet.
The State of Washington requires that a sufficiently licensed and bonded contractor complete any modifications, upgrades, or remodel work that will be performed if this is a leased space or if the work is being completed for the purpose of selling the building. Therefore, in most instances the permit can only be issued to a contractor.
Please review our Commercial Permit Process web page for additional information to include how long it may take for your plans to be approved. And the Permits for New Businesses page that ‘s accessible from our Quick Links section provides information on other permits that may be required.
Benefits of Completing a Change of Use Permit
Permits and the adherence to construction codes provide for:
- Reduced property insurance rates ($$$) due to reduced risk of damage or injury (reduced liability);
- Increased accessibility for all (more people have the opportunity to enjoy the new business);
- Increased flexibility in the use of the building;
- Lower utility bills ($$$) through increased energy efficiency; and
- Increased resale values ($$$).
Upon approval of all final inspections, the permits and the updated certificate of occupancy become a permanent record identifying that all minimum code requirements have been met. Failure to obtain permits or occupy a space without a valid certificate of occupancy can result in fines and penalties.