Building in Baja California Sur
By Cheryl T. Miller
Buying a lot and building your dream home can be exciting!  It
affords you the opportunity to build exactly what you want to
suit your lifestyle and your exact needs, oriented to the views
you want and maximizing your dollars in the finished product. In fact,
it may be the only way to get exactly what you want!

But what about building in Baja? Permits? And approvals?
As an architect from the Los Angeles area, I can tell you first hand that
the costs and timing of obtaining permits and approvals in Baja
California Sur is a “walk-in-the-park” compared to the United States
in any  of its major metropolitan areas.  When I left Los Angeles
13 years ago, the timing to obtain a simple remodel permit was
approaching 6 months and tens of thousands of dollars. A new permit? Figure a year, with then 37 or more agency sign offs and much frustration, red tape and a huge expense.  It is probably much worse now, as governments tend to pass more laws and form more regulatory bodies than decrease them.  

Let me make this VERY clear: Baja California Sur has CODES. It also has a permit approval process which may include a few agencies, depending on where you build and what you build, and if you are in a gated community, you will need their approval as well.  But, all in all though, the process is much faster and a fraction of the cost in the U.S.
Bear in mind though, that the governing agencies that issue said approvals are “county” or Municipal based.  I.E., if your lot is located in the Municipality of La Paz, then your approvals will be obtained in La Paz. If it is located in Los Cabos, then your approvals will be issued from Los Cabos. Etc. And each have slightly differing codes, processes and agencies.  It is always best to hire an architect or engineer who has experience in the municipal within which you will be building.  

Be advised though that any building REQUIRES a permit. Cleaning your raw land REQUIRES a permit. Building a block wall on your property line MAY require a permit.  Installing a septic system REQUIRES a permit. Do not build without inquiring as to the proper requirements, permits and sign offs. You will be either shut down, fined, required to obtain the permits/approvals with penalties and interest, required to tear down the offending structure or a combination of the above. It is always better to do something the right way, the first time, as opposed to being fined and required to do it anyways at a higher cost. The popular image many foreigners have that Baja is the Wild, Wild West and they are not subject to Public Safety laws, including the permit process is simply uninformed and untrue.  Mexico, in all States, have sophisticated laws and processes to protect the public, just as does the United States or Canada.

Codes in Baja California Sur include but are not limited to, building codes, zoning codes or regulations registered in Public registry for your gated community. All of the applicable codes or regulations must be complied with in order to receive a permit.  Over the years, I have found that building codes for Fire and Life Safety are very similar to the Uniform Building Code used in the western part of the United States.   Egress requirements from bedrooms, ceiling heights, stair construction, light and ventilation … all the issues that cover basic personal protection are covered in the Baja California building codes.

Zoning codes, on the other hand, cover issues such as overall building height, number of stories permitted, maximum lot coverage and maximum square meters of construction, the number of units allowed per lot, etc. are all covered by the Planning Department or Planeacion.  Each municipality has its own zoning plan and blanket regulations for

certain areas. To find out what is your zoning code and what it permits, you can visit the Planning Department and they can give you the overall, general requirements. However, for raw land, you will need to obtain a Carta de Uso de Suelo (Zoning determination for the use of the land).  Normally, a Carta de Uso de Suelo is NOT done by the Seller of raw land. It is usually done by the person wanting to obtain a building permit.  The Zoning Department will then give you a letter stating the permitted building height, stories, land use, lot coverage and maximum building area allowed. It is best to submit a plan of what you intend to do, along with your application and a letter of explanation, especially if your use will differ from the general zoning determination.  They will issue a zoning determination that may increase the overall zoning use/restrictions permitted, if it is not to the detriment of the public or any surrounding property owners.

Your gated community approval process?  Each community is different. Their requirements are stated in their CCRs or the Design Regulations of the community. Each should also state the process and costs for the approvals.  In order for CCRs or Design regulations to be enforceable (along with HOA fees) each community must register these items in Public Registry. However, before purchasing your land, make sure and obtain and read a copy of the CCRs. Ask questions, and understand them fully.  Most communities, in order to protect views, property values will impose their own height restrictions, numbers of stories, lot coverage , minimum and maximum, allowed finishes, wall heights, view cones, or any number of other restrictions, some lot specific, that are normally more restrictive than the building or zoning codes.  These will take precedence over the general zoning code.

Building is always more stressful than buying a built product. But the rewards can far outweigh the extra effort. Being armed with knowledge and reasonable expectations can make your experience all the better and more rewarding.  

See our next article on Plans, Architects and DRO’s.

By Cheryl T. Miller, NAR, ABR, CIP, Broker, Architect. Broker of Baja Realty and Investment. We at Baja Realty and Investment can help you find the perfect lot for those dreams…Contact us at, 624-122-2690. Written 2016