Of all the major cities in the United States, Chicago has long been known as an economic titan. Historically the center of manufacturing and meat packing in the Midwest, today it is home to a diverse array of industries including printing, publishing, transportation, finance, real estate, and, yes, food processing and manufacturing. In 2020, the Chicago Loop was even ranked as the 10th most attractive business district in the world. There is no denying that Chicago is still one of the top destinations for businesses looking to expand or put down HQ roots. However, as with every commercial construction venture, you’ll need to be prepared for the challenge of acquiring building permits in Chicago.

It’s important to note that, along with the normal challenges associated with applying for commercial building permits, Chicago also has its own set of building codes: the Chicago Building Code (CBC). According to their website, they are currently phasing in more widely-used codes, such as the IBC, but plan to maintain regulations that work for “local conditions”.

Because of the unique system in Chicago, we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to help you navigate it for your next project.

Key Players in Chicago

In Chicago, you’ll primarily be interacting with the Department of Buildings, which is responsible for maintaining the safety and quality of life for Chicago residents through permitting and inspections, as well as trade licensing and code enforcement. You may also need to go through the Department of Planning & Development for any project that requires zoning approvals.

The Steps for Getting Commercial Building Permits in Chicago

Step 1: Gather and Prepare Paperwork

The first step to obtaining commercial building permits in Chicago is to gather and prepare all the paperwork needed for your application. Based on our previous experience here at Scout, some projects may require approval from zoning and planning. However, many trade and smaller scope permits can avoid this process.

The specific paperwork you’ll need will vary depending on the scope of your project. Some projects may require only 1-2 forms, such as architectural plans and drawings, while others may call for 7 forms or more. At Scout Services, we’ll assign you a project manager who will be able to confirm the paperwork you’ll need based on your scope of work.

Step 2: Fill Out the Application

Next, it’s time to fill out the application for commercial building permits in Chicago. Again, depending on the scope of your project, you may need to apply for the Standard Plan Permit Review or, for much larger and more complex projects, the Developer Services Program.

There are also two other processes for minor projects:

  1. The Express Permit Program (formerly the Easy Permit Program) is an option for most building repairs, small improvement projects, or any administrative changes to previously issued permits.
  2. The Self-Certification Program is available to any eligible projects where an Illinois-registered architect or structural engineer is also the registered self-certified professional who agrees to take full responsibility for code compliance. If this is an option that is open to you, all you’ll need is an administrative document review and your permit might get through the system in only a few weeks.

For everyone else, you’ll need to fill out the permit application online via Chicago’s online portal, E-plan. As of the date of this article’s publication, the application fee is $375. Within 1-2 days of submission, you can expect to receive an email inviting you to upload all related documents to the web portal.

Step 3: Submit Your Application

After receiving that email, you can upload your plans and documents to the E-plan portal. There are several requirements your documents will need to meet, and the details differ depending on the project, but in general you’ll need to:

  • Leave a 3×3” space at the top right corner of all sheets
  • Include an electronic seal, signature, and graphic scale

For some projects, you may also need to initiate additional items like a Structural Peer Review. The experts at Scout Services can help you determine whether any of those apply to your project.

Step 4: Review and Re-Submittal

Upon submission, your application will be turned over to a Department of Buildings Plan Manager for a pre-screen. This initial process can take up to 10 business days, and you’ll need to address any comments before you can move forward with the rest of the review.

Follow-up here is absolutely crucial. Chicago is a large city with a number of projects going on at any given time. It’s not uncommon for applications to get lost in the shuffle. Scout Services will stay on top of your application to ensure it moves through the process as intended.

After the Building Plan Manager approves the pre-screen review, your project will be routed to the individual plan reviewers for the full review process. This can take an additional 3-6 weeks. In total, plan for a timeframe of 5-8 weeks for the pre-screen and initial review processes to take place.

Once your application has passed through both of these processes, you’ll likely have some corrections to make. Nearly every project comes back from the initial review with corrections and, in Chicago, you’ll get them via email. After addressing these in full, you’ll be able to resubmit for a second review.

Step 5: Permit Approval and Issuance

After your project passes the final review by the Plan Manager, you’ll need to pay whatever remains of the permit fee balance. Then, you’re all set to print your permits directly from the online portal!


Q: How long does it take to get commercial building permits in Chicago?

A: According to their website, you should plan on about 5 weeks for the initial review (after pre-screening) and 90 business days for the full review process. Remember that if your project is very minor, it may qualify for the Express Permit program or you may be able to utilize the Self-Certification program, both of which can shorten this timeline significantly. But in general, be aware that most standard plan review projects usually pass through 6-9 individual reviewers, and time with each can vary.

Q: What building codes apply in Chicago?

A: Various codes apply in Chicago, including but not limited to the CBC, Chicago Construction Codes, and the Chicago Electrical Code. As we mentioned earlier, Chicago is currently in a multi-year process of updating construction requirements to reflect codes and standards that are more widely used. That means, of course, that you can expect a lot of changes in the near future. Fortunately, we stay on top of that kind of thing here at Scout Services and we can make sure you’re always working with the most updated information.

Get Expedited Commercial Building Permits in Chicago with Scout Services

At Scout Services, we’re proud to be the nation’s leading provider of commercial permit expediting services. We’re headquartered in Chicago, but we work on commercial projects across the United States. Our seasoned team of permitting experts has the local knowledge to help you navigate any review system, and we maintain a database of 7,700+ municipalities to ensure a smooth flow of current information between our team and yours.

Whether you need assistance with a single-site new build or you’re looking for a single point of contact for your multi-state rollout project, our mission is to simplify permitting so you can focus on your project.

Get in touch with us today and we can get started on your next project within 24 business hours.