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Development Services

From Concept to Construction

Phone: 503-823-7300

TTY : 503-823-6868

1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97201

I want to remodel an existing commercial building. I won’t be changing the use, but may do some work on the site or on the exterior of the building

A project that would not involve any work on the outside of a building or to the site, and wouldn't change the legal use of any part of the space, is generally one of the simplest types of permits that we issue. An example of this type of project is where an existing office or retail space would be remodeled for a new office or retail tenant, or where the existing tenant wants to make some changes to the layout. 

If this will be a new location for you, and even if you will be using the building for the same use as did the previous tenant, we recommend that you check the building permit records to make sure that the use has actually been permitted and that a change of use permit will NOT be required. It is not uncommon to find buildings that, for many years, have been used in a way that has never been approved through the permit process. Legalizing a change of use can be a lot more complicated and expensive than remodeling an existing legal use. You can avoid surprises by doing the research ahead of time. 

Even with relatively simple interior remodeling projects there are some potential complications to be aware of -- most of which have to do with improvements that could be triggered based on the value of the work.


When an alteration for which a building permit is required has a value (not including costs of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, permanent equipment, painting, fire extinguishing systems, site improvements, eco-roofs and finish works) of more than $219,694 (adjusted annually) a seismic evaluation is required.

Unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs) have some unique requirements under the city's seismic ordinance. Seismic triggers for URMS consider the work done to the building over time, and not just the current proposed work. Repair or replacement of more than 50% of the roof area over a five year period may result in the requirement to improve the structural roof system, roof anchorage, and parapets.

Another seismic trigger for URMs is based on the combined market value of repair and alterations done to the building as a whole over any two year period. That means that the city will look at the value of your proposed work and add it to the value of other work done on the building in the past two years. When the combined value of that work is over 40 dollars per square foot for a single story building, or $30 per square foot for a multistory building, the entire building must be seismically upgraded. The value of required accessibility improvements, required elevator improvements and improvements to nonconforming development on the site can be subtracted from the total for the purposes of that determining that combined value.

For more information on the seismic triggers and/or requirements speak to one of the Structural Reviewers at (503) 823-1302.