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Public Records Search - How To


Public Records Search – Project Task Guide

Process of Investigation - “Sleuthing”

Always do exhaustive searches about the project – any kind of information.  Many innovative green projects have already been featured by other publications, though these probably didn’t focus on the code innovation.  Once you have the parcel number, address and owners name you can find information on the property / project from any number of sources, including:

  • Google search
  • Previous case studies done by others
  • Print articles (newspaper, magazine, etc.)
  • The Builder’s website – project portfolio, photo gallery, blog, info, etc.
  • The Guild’s website:  green tour profile, project spotlight, etc.
  • Public records


Public Records search

Your primary source of information is the County or City Assessor’s Office:  if they have an online geo data (e.g.

Use the parcel number from the short form, and perform a search for that parcel.  You can also search by address if that’s the info you have.

Access the information through their website or simply call the assessor’s office and ask the receptionist how to get information on the parcel, and what information & documents are available.

When you search for public records using an address, use only the number and street name, no other info (e.g. do not include direction/quadrant “SE”) or you’re liable to find no results.  Only a perfect match will generate a result for the property.  Click on the listing for your site and you’ll find all the info including address, property owner, and other information about the parcel.

Once you find the parcel listing, capture all the details about the property such as owners name and address (if different), additional parcel #s, etc.  Now you’re ready to seek out information about the specific project and innovation.

Get a copy of the permit:  Depending on the size of the jurisdiction, their public records may be stored in different ways.  These include:

  • Public records stored on the Web – the amount & depth of information available online will vary (larger = more)
  • Hard copy in files, microfiche, computerized or other system of information – but you have to go to the permit center to request access to the documents.

If you can find little or no information on the web, call the permit center of the jurisdiction and find out their procedure for requesting public records on a project.  Also find out what types of documents are available to you.

To find detailed public information from the web:

Go to the website of the jurisdiction, and find the appropriate department’s webpage.  There you can find a link to various sources of information, depending on what you’re looking for.   Possible names for these links include include Permit Activity, Complaint Status, Permit Status, Building Permit Records, etc.

The most detailed online documents will be found if the jurisdiction has a document search engine allowing you to find public records associated with the project address.  From this you should find a listing of “activities”

Be sure to double check that this is in fact your property by confirming other information such as the owner, or contractor of the project.

Full info on permit status, review cycles, etc.  Few if any cities are going to include detailed supporting documents, but may identify documents you want to find

Listing of permits issued which at least helps you find the project or permit #

Once you find the listing of permit activity for a particular property, bookmark it so you can easily return there in the future.   Now look for any activity listings which might relate to the specific project or innovation you’re studying by looking for the date of your project, any keywords in the descriptive field which might tip you off.  Go on your gut and dig as deep as possible into each permit, looking for links to any supporting documents or standards, etc.  There may be tabs with different information, nested links to documents on review reports, correction letters, permit issuances, and inspections.  Any of these may contain valuable information pertaining to compliance.  Look for “printable view” and print can be an easy way to get all the info into a file for easy reference as you go forward.

Also find all the project contacts including designers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, etc, especially if any of their names or contact info are missing from the short form.

Specifically look for the names of approving officials and inspectors who reviewed the application, permit and project on the way to compliance.  Gravitate toward the words “completed” or “final”.

Go this route to gather as much information possible, narrow down what you can find online.  In any case, there are likely to be documents you cannot get online, so its good to call the permit center and ask the friendly staff to explain their procedure for getting public records information.  They will tell you or give you a list of the types of information available and how to get it.  The procedures will range from:

  • written request for information
  • information emailed to you
  • staff may copy information for you to mail or pick up
  • staff my pull file for you and offer you to go through on site, make copies of information you need.


Use the parcel number from the short form, or the address if you have it to search for permit activity on the property.  You are interested in several types of activity:

  • Pre-submission conference
  • Permit checklist
  • Meeting minutes with plan reviewers, land-use reviewer, fire inspector, building  inspectors, others...
  • Final permits
  • Inspection

If you have the address but not the parcel number, the assessors office will provide you the parcel number by entering the address.

Applicable Codes Search

Identify the normal prescriptive path for a project in this category, and the applicable codes and standards for that would normally apply.

Identify the specific way in which it deviates from that code or standard, and what alternative standars may be applied as an adaptive path to compliance.

In some case may be an alternative prescriptive path once a standard is developed in one or more places.


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