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Discussion of Permitting Requirements for Portable Buildings

Hi Folks-  We get a lot of questions about the permit requirements for the buildings in Pima County (County) and the City of Tucson (City).  The following is my interpretation of the requirements that we have learned over the years from speaking with the County and City staff and reviewing the on-line requirements.  Please be sure and consult with the City of Tucson Development Services Department and the Pima County Development Services Department for more information on the subject.  The information I am providing is an opinion only of the programs and is not meant to be a legal opinion or to professionally represent the regulatory requirements of each jurisdiction. 

Pima County Development Services Department:
Public Works Building
201 N Stone Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701

City of Tucson Planning and Development Services:
Public Works Building
201 N Stone Ave, Tucson AZ 85701

For areas outside Pima County and the City, you will need to consult with those jurisdictions separately.

Each jurisdiction is similar but there are some differences as well.  The City and County require a permit for the buildings if they are greater than 200 square feet (sf) or 10 feet by 20 feet (10×20) in size.  This means that any building that is 10×20 and under is exempt from the permit process in the County and the City.  It is recommended that the owner check the zoning requirements for setbacks from the property lines regardless of permit requirements.  In addition, there are particular areas in the County and City that belong to Home Owner’s Associations (HOAs.  You will need to check with your HOA’s specific requirements prior to ordering a portable building.


 Pima County Development Services:

If you are located in unincorporated Pima County, outside the City of Tucson Limits or other jurisdiction’s limits,  you will need to get a permit for the building if it is over 10×20 in size.  The County considers these accessory structures or structures separate from the primary residence.  The cost of the permit is based on the square footage. 

The County does have a fee calculator on its website:  CLICK HERE FOR THE FEE CALCULATOR    Go to the residential fee calculator spreadsheet and enter the square footage of the shed.  It will then calculate the permit fee for that size of structure.  For example if we use a 12×32 side lofted barn as pictured, the fee will be $489.00 for new construction.  If you need help with the calculation or do not have a calculator, we would be glad to help with that.   


To apply for the Pima County permit:   CLICK HERE TO APPLY FOR THE PERMIT   Both the City and County have a pretty simple one page application.  They do require a site plan showing the setbacks from the property lines for the particular zoning and the engineering plans for the buildings, which we can provide.  ABCO of Sahuarita does offer the application services for a nominal fee if the customer so chooses and assuming we have the availability at the time to help with the permit.   We have done this for a number of customers and are always glad to help customers through the permitting process, should they decide to do it themselves or have us do it.  Please note that though we are glad to help with the permitting process, it is the customer’s ultimate responsibility to obtain the permit and pay the necessary permit fees to the necessary jurisdiction.  We help on a case by case basis but do not guarantee to do this for everyone depending on our availability and the specific requirements of the permit needed and we will not be responsible for the permit fees or construction related to the permit.

One of the first things we check for is whether the location is in a floodplain, because the permit process does get a bit more involved for properties or locations that are in a floodplain or flood zone.  Therefore, it is recommended that the buildings be placed outside the floodplain zone if that is an option on the property.  If that is not an option, the owner will need to obtain a floodplain use permit from the County, which typically requires raising the base elevation for the building to get it above the regulated flood elevation.  The building can also be placed on stem walls to raise it as needed.  For more information on the requirements, please contact the PIma County Flood Control Department, Floodplain Division:  Pima County Flood Control District:  520-724-4600.

ABCO Portable buildings are all certified by a registered Civil Engineer in Arizona and are certified according to the International Building Codes for Construction (IBC 2018).   The engineering plans for the buildings do call for anchoring of the buildings on each side in multiple places depending on the length of the building.  For example, a 32 foot long building will require 3 anchors on each side spread evenly apart.  These soil anchors can be hammered or augered into the soil based on the specific psi strength rating of anchor required.  The soil anchors are then attached to the skids on the underside of the building with steel straps or cables.   These anchors can purchased at a few of the local hardware stores and at mobile home parts stores. 

For information on the plans and construction, please contact us and we can guide you on how to do this:  ABCO of Sahuarita 520-447-7862.

Once the anchors are installed, the final item required for the approval process is the inspection of the building to ensure the anchors are installed properly.  The inspection is often times performed over Skype which eliminates the need for an in-person inspection from the County. saving time and resources for everyone involved.  The process typically takes a month or more from start to finish to obtain the permit.  It is always recommended to get a permit to avoid fines and to make sure that if and when you decide to sell your property, things go without a hitch at the time of sale.  In addition, it is possible that you could fined for not obtaining the permit beforehand.

As an accessory structure, the buildings can be used for temporary housing in Pima County or as sleeping quarters, guest house or other allowable accessory use.  As accessory structures they should not be used as the primary residence on the property or as permanent housing.  The purpose would be to provide temporary housing or sleeping quarters until a more permanent structure can be built or to provide an additional space for people to stay outside the primary residence.

Please note that the buildings as delivered are “not suitable for human occupation”.  This means that they “do” need to be finished out on the inside with insulation, drywall, plumbing and electric.  All fixtures and receptacles do require permits through Pima County, which are separate from the building permit.  It is recommended that a licensed Contractor be hired to perform the finish work and to obtain the necessary permits for construction.  Please note that ABCO and ABCO of Sahuarita do not supply the land for the buildings.  The buyer would be responsible for purchasing the property prior to delivery of the building,

Public Works Building- 201 N Stone Ave-Downtown Tucson

City of Tucson Planning and Development Services

The requirements are very similar in the City of Tucson to Pima County’s requirements.  However, because of the denser population and typically smaller property sizes within the City, it is highly recommended that the individual consult with the City of Tucson prior to installing any size of shed.  The reason is that the zoning requirements and in particular the setback requirements need to be achieved whether you need a permit or not and my understanding is there is a nominal fee charged for the zoning request.  Again, buildings 10×20 and under or 200 sf are not required to get a permit. Costs for the permits for buildings over 200 sf are similar to the County-  please consult with the City of Tucson Planning and Development Services number above for the fees. 

Residential building codes will need to be followed if using the portable building for human occupation.  Again, it is recommended that a licensed contractor perform the work in accordance with the residential building codes.  Please contact the City of Tucson or your licensed Contractor for these requirements.  The City of Tucson does not allow these buildings to be used for permanent housing.  Per City Code, they can be used for sleeping quarters only. My understanding is that a bedroom and small kitchenette (microwave possibly small refrigerator?? are allowed) but not a full kitchen with refrigerator, stove and dishwasher, etc.

To apply for the fillable PDF permit in the City of Tucson: CLICK HERE FOR THE CITY OF TUCSON PERMIT APPLICATION

For more information, please  contact the City or County as noted above.  You can also reach us by phone at 520-447-7862 or email: