Special offer

Amnesty for home improvements without permits in Santa Cruz County

Real Estate Agent with Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. 01468388

Santa Cruz County’s Safe Structures Program - formerly called the Limited Immunity Amnesty Program


In an effort to provide safer, affordable housing, Santa Cruz County Building and Planning Department just released a new program called the Safe Structures Program.   This program lets property owners who have unpermitted housing structures work with County officials to add health, habitability, and safety features.   In exchange, the County will consider certified structures as a low priority for future code enforcement actions: “limited immunity amnesty,” even if the structures are unable to meet current building code requirements.    


Here are some of the advantages of the program:

  •        Lower costs

o   Reduced county fees for: permits for modifications, reduced impact fees, and waived penalty fees

o   Some potential tenant relocation costs are eliminated

  •        Any future complaints about the unpermitted structure would be answered by the County with the certification that the structure is safe and habitable, and that the County considers it a low priority for enforcement
  •        County Staff Assistance

o   Specialists can help property owners work with the Safe Structures Program

o   Specialists can also help property owners who’d like to fully legalize their structures through the permit process

  •        If the property owner decides not to finalize the process, the County won’t pursue enforcement action “unless an imminent hazard affects health and safety.”


The program does have certain qualifications:

  •        Construction was completed before January 2014
  •        The structure can’t qualify for complete legalization under normal rules and processes
  •        Current cases already involved in code compliance may qualify on a case by case basis
  •        Accessory dwelling units (ADUs), remodels, additions, and recent construction may qualify
  •        The structure is maintained so it continues to meet those health and habitability standards


The process:   There’s a 60+ point county inspection of the property, including safety criteria for stairs and railings, lighting, locks, septic system, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, water heater earthquake bracing, GFCI or AFCI electrical outlets where needed, sufficiently sized compliant electrical panel, potable water supply, emergency routes from bedrooms, safety features for gas appliances and heaters, widths of doors and halls, etc..   Habitability features include hot and cold water, a heater (not just a woodstove), cooking and refrigeration, lockable windows without cracks, and lack of infestations (molds, bugs, vermin, etc.).     Other portions of the structure won’t have to be brought up to current building codes under this program, as long as the overall structure is determined to be safe and habitable.


Expect to pay about $800 in initial fees.   Unlike other compliance issues where fees can be doubled for illegal unpermitted structures, owners may simply pay normal permit costs to bring structures up to current code on the items identified on the 60+ point inspection checklist.  There are many nuances and each situation is unique, so for more information, visit http://sccoplanning.com/LIAP or e-mail LIAP@santacruzcounty.us. Property owners can also go directly to the Building Counter at the Planning Department at 701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor.   Tip: Consider parking in a two hour visitor space, not a one hour space, as parking time is enforced.  


San Lorenzo Valley July median home price $680,000; up 6.25% over July 2017

California June median home price $602,760; up 8.5% over June 2017


MC Dwyer (CA DRE#01468388) is affiliated with Century 21 Showcase REALTORs

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M.C. Dwyer, MBA, REALTOR    call/text (831) 419-9759

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Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Well this seems like a good program, not sure if I would trust them:) just my two cents, 

Aug 22, 2018 05:21 PM
M.C. Dwyer
Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Endre Barath, Jr. I appreciate and somewhat share your concerns.    The proof is always in the pudding, right?    I e-mailed them asking for the article how many people were successful with the last county amnesty program, but, they didn't reply.

Aug 23, 2018 08:50 AM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

Interesting program.  Never heard of such a thing on our side of the country.

Aug 23, 2018 10:01 AM
M.C. Dwyer
Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Thanks for your comments @Chris Ann.

Aug 23, 2018 01:17 PM
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

This sounds like a really good idea and hope it will result in more rental housing.  It's something Maui County should consider too to help alleviate the housing crunch.

Aug 25, 2018 02:25 PM
M.C. Dwyer
Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.   Sorry to hear there's a crunch in Maui as well.   Hope you're having a great weekend Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089 !

Aug 26, 2018 12:25 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning M.C. Dwyer - I love Endre Barath, Jr. 's comment.  I might also have some skepticism but that being said it is a good idea to be on top of this for the time you will be selling.

Sep 26, 2018 06:46 AM
M.C. Dwyer
Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Grant Schneider I know of at least one seller in the process of getting amnesty, but I'd love to hear of more cases!

Sep 26, 2018 09:50 AM

How many have successfully completed this process? I am reluctant to jump in first. It seems too good to be true.

Oct 01, 2018 04:24 PM
M.C. Dwyer
Melody Russell Team at eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

One seller we represent is in the process of getting the amnesty, but my inquiry to the county asking how many people have successfully gone through the process went unanswered.    The good news is that they've said property owners can inquire and then decide not to go through it and that their file is then discarded.

Oct 09, 2018 02:27 PM