The difficulty of obtaining a building permit in Puerto Rico depends primarily on two things:
What do you plan to build and where?
Regarding the first of these two issues, prior to buying any plot of land or planning to build anything, you have to take into consideration, if what you want to build or what is already built on the property is allowed by the land use ordinances.
Then, you have to find out if the municipality were you want to build is under the jurisdiction of OGPe or Puerto Rico’s Permit Office or if its an Autonomous Municipality or Municipio Autónomo that has a POT (Ordinance Plan), and the authority (Jerarquía) has been grante to that municipality by PR’s Planning Board. Once you have cleared this up, you must find out what zoning plans and land use ordinances affect your property. This can be done thru the zoning maps or Mapas de Calificación found here and thru a nifty little program called the geolocalizador which uses GIS technology. If using the geolocalizador make sure you have the cadaster number, find your property on the map and click on it. A lot of information regarding your property will appear in a box, from its zoning to its flood status, etc. But watch out! Sometimes there might be two layers of maps affecting a specific area (planos sobrepuestos). These maps can create additional or superimposed zoning areas or land use ordinances which can restrict the use of the property.This usually happens in important areas of development, like Condado, Santurce, beach areas etc. So be careful read and research!
Once you have the maps and have found out the localization of your property and its zoning, its time to verify what you can build according to the applicable land use ordinance. If the property is located on a Municipio Autónomo, then you must verify its POT – Plan de Ordenación Territorial, if its located anywhere else, you have to look to OGPe’s regulations – Reglamento Conjunto. By the way, some Municipios Autónomos have adopted the Reglamento Conjunto as their land use ordinance plan.
So, with the zoning and the regulations at hand, be it POT or Reglamento Conjunto, you can find out if what you want to build, or what is already built on your property is allowed. But read carefully! As the regulations can be tricky to the untrained eye and some measurements might have to be taken, in order to determine areas and spacing between structures or other properties.
Finally, if what you want to build is allowed in the land use ordinance and your property DOES NOT HAVE any illegal construction (constructions without permits that are not allowed according to the regulations) and is not in a flood zone, then the process should be very straight forward if all documents are filed promptly and correctly. Now, if what you want to build is not allowed by the regulations and/or the property currently has illegal constructions that are not allowed under the regulations, then you must request a variance of the regulations or variación. A variación can take a considerable amount of time. After all, you’re asking the government to bend the rules for you, so what do you expect? From our experience, many projects fall under the second category. So, no wonder many complain on how long the process takes.
Who are you hiring to take you thru the process?
Now this is the primary cause of difficulty in obtaining permits. In Puerto Rico you have “gestores” or people who are hired to procure permits at the different governmental agencies and you have licensed professionals like engineers, architects, surveyors, etc. Usually the “gestores” have no preparation in construction or even in the permitting process. Many rely on a trial and error method or a word of mouth approach to determine regulatory compliance. As you can imagine, they are usually cheaper but their approach is not the most effective. However to be fair, there are some “gestores” which are excellent at what they do, know their business extremely well and can put to shame any licensed professional, but they’ll cost you the same or more as professionals do.
Then you have the licensed professionals who usually certify the plans. They are usually more knowledgeable of the permitting process. But the fact that they are licensed professionals does not necessarily mean that they know the permitting process. That is precisely the reason, that some licensed professionals hire “gestores” to do this job.
Confused? you shouldn’t be. What it all boils down to, is making sure that prior to hiring anybody, you are certain that the person knows his stuff.
Well, how do you know? Usually, prior to quoting, a knowledgeable individual will ask for the cadaster number of the property and will perform an investigation. Some will even require you to pay for that initial assessment. Basically, he will verify what we discussed in the first point of this post. So by asking him a couple of questions you should know if he knows his stuff. Ask him: What is the property’s zoning? Can I build what I want to build? Is it in a flood zone?
In conclusion and to answer the question, permits can be a hassle under the right conditions, but not necessarily due to the regulations, as much as the factors previously stated. However, less regulation would be very welcomed.
Hope this helps clear up some things. If not, please contact us and let us know, we’ll be glad to help or at least guide you.
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