What is a “Red Tag”

In the world of residential building construction, the term “red tag” as used in conversation can refer generically to a few different situations involving unpermitted work.  The definitions given below as used in this website are intended to apply to residential construction in California.

When a building project is discovered  to be (a) unpermitted, (b) in violation of the California Building Code (CBC) or other locally adopted codes, (c) in a hazardous condition, it will required by the local Building Official to be brought into compliance.  In many (but not all) cases this can be accomplished by providing the necessary documentation, often including as-built drawings of the work that has been done, to the building department and applying for a Building Permit.  All work must then be inspected and proven to be in compliance with the CBC, in order to pass a Final Inspection.  David Hirzel Building Design has negotiated Red Tag Solutions in local jurisdictions throughout the San Mateo Peninsula.

Building Code:   Local and state building regulations having the force of law and established to ensure minimum acceptable structural and safety standards for new construction. Building codes cover most common construction details, and also minimum and maximum structure size and height, parking, and lot size.  Most jurisdictions in northern California have adopted, and in some cases slightly modified the California Building Code (which is in turn a modified version of the International Building Code).

Building Permit:   Legal permission granted by an appropriate local government agency to build a specific structure on a specific site within a specified time period. Often maintenance and repairs may be done without a building permit as long as the work does not include structural work, or the construction or removal of ANY walls or partitions. Cosmetic changes, such as painting or carpeting, do not require a permit. However, such work still must comply with applicable codes dealing with fire safety and other safety issues.  The local governing jurisdiction should be contacted prior to commencing any work, for clarification if its own specific requirements.  A building permit must be issued prior to the commencement of work. If construction is started prior to the issuance the contractor or homeowner may be subject to civil fines and other penalties.

Code Enforcement Violation:Code Enforcement Departmens consider zoning, building, and other land use regulations by making sure that construction activities and other forms of development permits and are being carried out in compliance with the terms of permit approvals. They also respond to situations where property is being used in a manner that does not comply with zoning requirements.

Demolition Permit:  In some jurisdictions, the project can avoid a continuing accumulation of penalties for noncompliant work, by applying for a demolition permit, since demolition of the work is one (but only one) approach to meeting compliance.  The demolition does not have to actually occur.  Just the issuance of a permit allows the owner time, often as long as 180 days, to plan for and submit application for a better solution—one that may allow legalization of the unpermitted work.

Red Tag:  a term used by building officials to describe the posting of notices on a property deemed dangerous or unfit for human habitation at the time such hazard is discovered by the building department.  It does not necessarily mean that the building must be condemned, but it is an official warning that remediation is required.

Stop Work Orders: Whenever work is proceeding in violation of the requirements of the California Building Code, a stop work order may be issued. A stop work order is simply a form of communication the temporarily halts the work until the non-compliant code issues can be resolved.

Final Inspection: Concludes the process, after the building permit has been issued and all work completed to the satisfaction of the Building Official.  In most cases this is the final step, and all code violations relating to the unpermitted work have been cleared from the property.


2 responses to “What is a “Red Tag”

  1. Hi David,
    I hope you can give me some advice on this situation. I am a licensed General Contractor performing work as a Framing Contractor for a general on a residential home on Telegraph Hill in SF. Work has been progressing nicely however today the job was red tagged by the inspector because a neighbor is complaining that there have been changes to the facade that were not approved in design review. Regardless of who needs to fix this I was told to suspend work until it has been sorted out. What if any thing should I do? I am worried that the job may be stalled for at least a week and who knows how long with the worst case being a longer pause. I filed pre lien when I started but I’m worried about not getting paid if things go really bad. In 30 years of operating as a framing contractor I’ve never had this happen before and am worried. Hope you can help me out with some advice.

    • Here in California, Planning Departments run everything. Building and code requirements come into play only after Planning has said any could be built, usually based on (often misguided) exterior aesthetics. Meaning, that whatever is built better look like what Planning approved first. You don’t mention what the issues are, so this is a generalized answer for the moment.

      So, first question: are you building from the approved plan set? Next question: are you following the exterior aesthetics exactly, to the letter, with each and every approved material, fixture, component, and color? If the answer to both is yes, then it should be a matter of going downtown and proving that to someone in the Planning Department with photographs, spec sheets, etc.

      If the answer to either question is no, there will be a problem. Not insurmountable, but depending on circumstances and stage of construction, not so easily fixed. Some points may be negotiable: the material or detail as installed, as a substitute for the approved. Other points may not be negotiable, especially if this is a historic preservation. If there is a real problem with the details and aesthetics being at a variance with the approved plans, some of the work may have to be redone.

      Get back to me with some details, and I’ll try to give a better answer. As far as legal advice regarding contracts and liens, you will have to look elsewhere.

      David Hirzel
      David Hirzel Building Design

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