Chicago Permit Seeker

My first experience as a Chicago Permit Seeker.

We need a new backyard fence. So I put on my happy homeowner’s hat and scouted out fence builders. A few estimates later, I fenced a deal. Construction would start the middle of July. At the end of June, customer service informed me I needed a fence permit. Construction on the fence couldn’t start without it. What they couldn’t tell me was the process for applying for the fence permit. You know, like what paperwork you need, where to go to apply and, a few tips to make the process less painful. Customer Service stopped at, you’re gonna need to get a permit. 

Hello Google. 

Google clicked me over to Chicago’s easy permit program, which is everything but easy. After struggling through the online application, the permit was denied. The online application is for fences 5 feet and under. Next stop City Hall!

While driving downtown, I gave myself a pep talk. I told myself to be patient and kind to the bureaucracy that fell between me and my permit. I’ve never been a bureaucracy whisperer. They like rules without exceptions. I don’t. Many years ago, I started a small riot at the Drivers License Bureau.  Of course, this was back in the days when you could start a riot, keep your place in line and stay offline. Be nice Katybeth. 

Planting a big smile on my face, I walked into City Hall, room 900.  It was a pleasant surprise to see how few people were waiting for service. Three permit clerks were sitting behind desks ready to process applications.  A sign above them directed permit seekers to sign in and sit down. I looked for the signup sheet and didn’t see it. So with a big smile, I asked one of the clerks where I would find it. It was a bit disheartening when she couldn’t find it either. And annoying when the clerk next to her found it and slammed it down in front of me. But I kept my eye on the permit prize. Be nice Katybeth 

Taking my seat, it was hard not to notice the 3 clerks were not in permit processing permit mode. The chairs in front of them were empty. An hour and a half later, they’d processed three permits. I was getting a bit judgy.  Soon the three clerks dwindled to 2, and one of the two was discussing vacation plans with her collogue. Wisconsin Dells! Forget nice! 

Approaching the friendliest looking of the two clerks, I inquired how long it would take to apply for a permit. She scowled at me and asked to see my paperwork. And then she inquired why I didn’t apply online. Gee wish I thought of that. I explained that I could complete the application online for a 5-foot fence but not a 6-foot fence. She replied that I was an idiot, and of course, I could apply for a 6-foot fence online. Ok. She didn’t call me an idiot, but she was shouting it in her head. I forgave her for everything when she pushed a few buttons, handed me my paperwork, and sent me off to pay. It was a breeze to pay ($275.00 to build a fence on my property), and the cashier even smiled at me. Moments later, after improving Chicago’s economy I was holding my permit. I couldn’t believe it. I felt euphoric.

As soon as I reached the street level, I reached for my phone to call my business partner and son to share my excitement. No phone. No phone in my purse. No phone in my pocket. I turned around and raced back to city hall. The smiling cashier handed me my phone. What a relief. 

Street level again. Permit in hand. I was humming along for a block or two when it occurred to me that I had not checked the height of the fence on the permit. Sure enough, it read 5 feet. Not 6 feet. Back to room 900. I explained the error, Ms. Defensive didn’t say she was sorry, but she did send me on my way with a corrected permit. 

It was time to get the hell out of downtown. The parking garage kiosk took my ticket and credit card. The total was $50.00. Yes. Really. And then the machine refused to give me back my credit card or parking ticket. I offered the machine a plea bargain. Take my credit card! Return my parking receipt! Without a stamped paid parking ticket I could not exit the garage. The machine refused my offer, so next, I started banging on the help button and screaming HELP! HELP! The people in line behind me joined in (there is only one parking kiosk.) Finally, help arrived! They opened the back of the machine, retrieving my credit card and the paid receipt. But not before suggesting it was wrinkled when I inserted it. Was not! 

Approaching Tonka (Cole’s trucks name), I reached for my keys. No keys in my pocket. No keys in my purse! NO KEYS! The good news I knew where I’d left them! On top of the parking payment machine. I was holding my keys in my hand because I didn’t anticipate the hostage situation at the parking Kiosk. Silly me. When I returned, my keys were not on top of the machine. I was not amused. And I swear the machine was enjoying have the last word. After a bit of sleuthing, I found my keys at the Avis car rental, next to Attila the parking Hun. 

On the way home, I treated myself to a Happy Meal (the toy was kind of cool.) And I was HAPPY very, very HAPPY! Life is challenging right now. We have lots of business irons in the fire and face fierce learning curves every day. Somedays, it feels like I am marching in place. But when I look at that permit, I believe the Universe is winking at me. As if to say no matter the challenges you are facing right now; you’ve got this. And put your keys and phone in your purse, girl. 

Odd Love Company. Thanks for dropping by!

Resources for Chicago Permit seekers. 

Where to go:

City Hall
121 N Lasalle. Room 900
Chicago, Il.

Check to see if you can apply online—-

You may not need a permit if your fence is 5 feet or under. I was told you could apply for a permit online for fences over 6 feet. However, the online site would not accept my application for a 6-foot fence. 

Information required: Different permits require different information this information is based on a fence. 

  • The fence measurements (hight and width)
  • Fence type (wood, vinyl…)
  • Cost of fence
  • Contractor license number if you are using a contractor 
  • Letter of Intent from contractor (I was not asked for this but was told I would need it) 

Plat of survey:

The fence contractor needs this, but I wasn’t ask for it during the fence permit process. It cost me $550.00 (Chicago) to have a plat of survey completed. This included a virtual copy and 4 printed copies. I was told this is the average amount for Chicago. Plat of surveys do need to be updated so don’t assume your survey from 20 years ago will be accepted. Ask.


  • Sign up when you arrive. 
  • Immediately after signing up speak to a clerk and tell them which permit you are applying for. Do this even if you need to interrupt them. Just start off with…I hate to be rude, but I have a question. 
  • After waiting for about a half-hour approach the clerk again and ask them how long you should expect to wait. 
  • It appears they process permits from individuals before processing permits for contractors –tell them your permit type immediately.
  • Room 900 is hot. I imagine in the winter it is chilly. Dress accordingly.
  • Be polite, but don’t be too nice. Interrupt if you must.