The game follows a hypothetical journey of one building permit application. It relies on extensive interviews with Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting staff and the people who deal with DPP regularly, including permit routers, draftsmen, architects and homeowners.

Many of them spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared being blacklisted by a department they rely on for their livelihood. It also incorporates real city laws and policies. See our anonymous sources policy here.

DPP Game
Play Through Honolulu's Building Permitting Process
You’re a Honolulu resident who is fortunate enough to have a plot of land in a residential neighborhood. Lucky you! You’d like to build a home for your family. Nothing fancy. Just two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, living area and a carport. You have $800,000 for the project and hope to start construction in six months.
Time: 0
Cost: $800,000
Mood: Optimistic
The process starts off easy enough. You go to the DPP website and create an online application. Within minutes you get an automated email from the department’s POSSE system with your Internet Building Permit number. So far so good!
Time: 5 minutes
Cost: $800,000
Mood: Optimistic
Within 20 minutes, you get another email that lets you upload your plans to E-Plans. You upload them and pay the $1,440 plan review fee. We’re moving right along!
Time: 25 minutes
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Optimistic
You’re now in prescreening, at the back of a months-long line. This is when DPP examines your plans for the bare basics. Settle in. You could be here a while.
Time: 1 day
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Concerned
It’s been 30 days. You check the status of your project in E-Plans. It hasn’t moved. You wait patiently.
Time: 30 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Annoyed
Another 30 days pass. You email DPP. “What’s the status of my project?”

A DPP staff member responds:“Sorry, we’re behind. It’s October, but we’re still prescreening projects submitted in May. We ask for your continued patience as we go through projects in the order they were received. Weeks go by.
Time: 60 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Frustrated
This is taking too long. Do you want to quit the permitting process and just build your house without a permit, which would be illegal?
Time: 60 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Fuming
It feels great to give your contractor the go-ahead. But a few days into construction, DPP's enforcement branch shuts the work site down for building without a permit. You have to pay a fine that is equal to 3x your building permit fee. That's $21,600! You have to continue the permitting process, but the cost of the fine puts you over budget. You have to downgrade your kitchen and bathroom fixtures and appliances to the cheapest options.
Finally, you get a response from the prescreening staff! Uh oh. Your project’s file name was too long. It can only be 45 characters, including spaces. DPP sends you to the back of the prescreening line.
Time: 70 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Furious
You upload a corrected file. But another month passes in prescreening.
Time: 100 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Furious
Finally, you get a response from the prescreening staff! Uh oh. Your project’s file name was too long. It can only be 45 characters, including spaces. DPP sends you to the back of the prescreening line.
Time: 70 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Furious
You upload a corrected file. But another month passes in prescreening.
Time: 100 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Furious
Finally you’re cleared through prescreening. A plans examiner is assigned to your project. They send several emails to other agencies that will need to review your project including the Board of Water Supply, the Wastewater division and the Stormwater Quality division.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Hopeful
Finally you’re cleared through prescreening. A plans examiner is assigned to your project. They send several emails to other agencies that will need to review your project including the Board of Water Supply, the Wastewater Branch and the Storm Water Quality Division.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Hopeful
The wait time so far is not inspiring confidence in DPP. Do you want to hire a third-party reviewer to speed things up? You could slash two months off your total review time, but it'll cost an extra $5,000.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Hopeful
The wait time so far is not inspiring confidence in DPP. Do you want to hire a third-party reviewer to speed things up? You could slash two months off your total review time, but it'll cost an extra $5,000.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Hopeful
Congrats, your plans are sped up slightly with outside help! But the extra cost means you'll need to cancel the landscaping you wanted to do.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Hopeful
Congrats, your plans are sped up slightly with outside help! But the extra cost means you'll need to cancel the landscaping you wanted to do.
Time: 105 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Hopeful
The wastewater and stormwater divisions approve your plans within five days.
Time: 110 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Hopeful
The wastewater and stormwater divisions approve your plans within five days.
Time: 110 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Hopeful
The wastewater and stormwater divisions approve your plans within five days.
Time: 110 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Hopeful
The wastewater and stormwater divisions approve your plans within five days.
Time: 110 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Hopeful
BWS has a question about your plans, but you resolve it with them within two weeks.
Time: 124 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Hopeful
Now the project is in the hands of the plans examiner. She reviews your architectural drawings for compliance with the city and state code. But getting her approval will take some time…
Time: 125 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Getting tired of this
BWS has a question about your plans, but you resolve it with them within two weeks.
Time: 124 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Hopeful
Now the project is in the hands of the plans examiner. She reviews your architectural drawings for compliance with the city and state code. But getting her approval will take some time…
Time: 125 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Getting tired of this
BWS has a question about your plans, but you resolve it with them within two weeks.
Time: 124 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Hopeful
Through audits, the City and County of Honolulu finds that some third-party reviewers are approving plans that shouldn’t be approved. As a result, they have their plans examiners doublecheck the work of the third-party reviewers, essentially eliminating your two-month advantage.

Now the project is in the hands of the plans examiner. She reviews your architectural drawings for compliance with the city and state code. But getting her approval will take some time…
Time: 125 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Getting tired of this
BWS has a question about your plans, but you resolve it with them within two weeks.
Time: 124 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Hopeful
Through audits, the City and County of Honolulu finds that some third-party reviewers are approving plans that shouldn’t be approved. As a result, they have their plans examiners doublecheck the work of the third-party reviewers, essentially eliminating your two-month advantage.

Now the project is in the hands of the plans examiner. She reviews your architectural drawings for compliance with the city and state code. But getting her approval will take some time…
Time: 125 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Getting tired of this
You finally get your first round of comments after two months. Oh no. There’s a problem with the plans. You send the feedback to your architect, who gets it back to you within a week to upload into E-Plans.

You've officially bypassed the six-month mark and you're nowhere near getting your permit.
Time: 185 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Getting tired of this
You finally get your first round of comments after two months. Oh no. There’s a problem with the plans. You send the feedback to your architect, who gets it back to you within a week to upload into E-Plans.

You've officially bypassed the six-month mark and you're nowhere near getting your permit.
Time: 185 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Getting tired of this
You finally get your first round of comments after two months. Oh no. There’s a problem with the plans. You send the feedback to your architect, who gets it back to you within a week to upload into E-Plans.

You've officially bypassed the six-month mark and you're nowhere near getting your permit.
Time: 185 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Getting tired of this
You finally get your first round of comments after two months. Oh no. There’s a problem with the plans. You send the feedback to your architect, who gets it back to you within a week to upload into E-Plans.

You've officially bypassed the six-month mark and you're nowhere near getting your permit.
Time: 185 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Getting tired of this
You hoped to start building by now, and you need a new home soon because your in-laws are moving in. Do you want to scrap the project and try to buy a home that's already built?
Time: 185 days
Cost: $801,440
Mood: Disheartened
You hoped to start building by now, and you need a new home soon because your in-laws are moving in. Do you want to scrap the project and try to buy a home that's already built?
Time: 185 days
Cost: $823,040
Mood: Disheartened
You hoped to start building by now, and you need a new home soon because your in-laws are moving in. Do you want to scrap the project and try to buy a home that's already built?
Time: 185 days
Cost: $806,440
Mood: Concerned
You hoped to start building by now, and you need a new home soon because your in-laws are moving in. Do you want to scrap the project and try to buy a home that's already built?
Time: 185 days
Cost: $828,040
Mood: Concerned
You gave up, and we can't blame you. Best of luck finding a home on the market. The median price for a single family home on Oahu is over $1.2 million.
Time: 185 days
Paid: $1,440
Mood: Sad
You gave up, and we can't blame you. Best of luck finding a home on the market. The median price for a single family home on Oahu is over $1.2 million.
Time: 185 days
Paid: $23,040
Mood: Sad
You gave up, and we can't blame you. Best of luck finding a home on the market. The median price for a single family home on Oahu is over $1.2 million.
Time: 132 days
Paid: $6,440
Mood: Sad
You gave up, and we can't blame you. Best of luck finding a home on the market. The median price for a single family home on Oahu is over $1.2 million.
Time: 132 days
Paid: $28,040
Mood: Sad
The City Council passed an ordinance requiring a topographical survey for all new projects. That will cost $6,000. Your architect says it's unnecessary, but you have no choice but to pay for it. Another three months go by.
Time: 275 days
Cost: $807,440
Mood: Enraged
The City Council passed an ordinance requiring a topographical survey for all new projects. That will cost $6,000. Your architect says it's unnecessary, but you have no choice but to pay for it. Another three months go by.
Time: 275 days
Cost: $829,040
Mood: Enraged
The City Council passed an ordinance requiring a topographical survey for all new projects. That will cost $6,000. Your architect says it's unnecessary, but you have no choice but to pay for it. Another three months go by.
Time: 275 days
Cost: $812,440
Mood: Enraged
The City Council passed an ordinance requiring a topographical survey for all new projects. That will cost $6,000. Your architect says it's unnecessary, but you have no choice but to pay for it. Another three months go by.
Time: 275 days
Cost: $834,040
Mood: Enraged
The plans examiner has another issue. She says the dimensions of your home violate city code, but she's wrong. Sorting out this misunderstanding takes two weeks because the plans examiner won't return your calls or emails.
Time: 290 days
Cost: $807,440
Mood: Losing your mind
At long last, your permit has been approved! But you can't start building just yet. You submit the final paperwork and a $7,200 building permit fee to the DPP office in the Fasi Municipal Building. You're so close to the finish line!
Time: 320 days
Cost: $814,640
Mood: Cautiously optimistic
You hit another snag. DPP recently changed its procedures and now requires the homeowner's signature on a form on which it wasn't required before. It takes a few days for you to sort this out, but in the end, they get the signature they need.
Time: 333 days
Cost: $814,640
Mood: Annoyed
It's been almost a year since you applied for this permit. The economy has changed, inflation has exploded and interest rates have risen. You're now unsure you can afford to build the house you planned. Your permit is at DPP – paid for and ready for pickup – but you need a minute to reassess.
Time: 334 days
Cost: $814,640
Mood: Demoralized
The plans examiner has another issue. She says the dimensions of your home violate city code, but she's wrong. Sorting out this misunderstanding takes two weeks because the plans examiner won't return your calls or emails.
Time: 290 days
Cost: $829,040
Mood: Losing your mind
At long last, your permit has been approved! But you can't start building just yet. You submit the final paperwork and a $7,200 building permit fee to the DPP office in the Fasi Municipal Building. You're so close to the finish line!
Time: 320 days
Cost: $836,240
Mood: Cautiously optimistic
You hit another snag. DPP recently changed its procedures and now requires the homeowner's signature on a form on which it wasn't required before. It takes a few days for you to sort this out, but in the end, they get the signature they need.
Time: 333 days
Cost: $836,240
Mood: Annoyed
It's been almost a year since you applied for this permit. The economy has changed, inflation has exploded and interest rates have risen. You're now unsure you can afford to build the house you planned. Your permit is at DPP – paid for and ready for pickup – but you need a minute to reassess.
Time: 334 days
Cost: $836,240
Mood: Demoralized
The plans examiner has another issue. She says the dimensions of your home violate city code, but she's wrong. Sorting out this misunderstanding takes two weeks because the plans examiner won't return your calls or emails.
Time: 290 days
Cost: $812,440
Mood: Losing your mind
At long last, your permit has been approved! But you can't start building just yet. You submit the final paperwork and a $7,200 building permit fee to the DPP office in the Fasi Municipal Building. You're so close to the finish line!
Time: 320 days
Cost: $819,640
Mood: Cautiously optimistic
You hit another snag. DPP recently changed its procedures and now requires the homeowner's signature on a form on which it wasn't required before. It takes a few days for you to sort this out, but in the end, they get the signature they need.
Time: 333 days
Cost: $819,640
Mood: Annoyed
It's been almost a year since you applied for this permit. The economy has changed, inflation has exploded and interest rates have risen. You're now unsure you can afford to build the house you planned. Your permit is at DPP – paid for and ready for pickup – but you need a minute to reassess.
Time: 334 days
Cost: $819,640
Mood: Demoralized
The plans examiner has another issue. She says the dimensions of your home violate city code, but she's wrong. Sorting out this misunderstanding takes two weeks because the plans examiner won't return your calls or emails.
Time: 290 days
Cost: $834,040
Mood: Losing your mind
At long last, your permit has been approved! But you can't start building just yet. You submit the final paperwork and a $7,200 building permit fee to the DPP office in the Fasi Municipal Building. You're so close to the finish line!
Time: 320 days
Cost: $841,240
Mood: Cautiously optimistic
You hit another snag. DPP recently changed its procedures and now requires the homeowner's signature on a form on which it wasn't required before. It takes a few days for you to sort this out, but in the end, they get the signature they need.
Time: 333 days
Cost: $841,240
Mood: Annoyed
It's been almost a year since you applied for this permit. The economy has changed, inflation has exploded and interest rates have risen. You're now unsure you can afford to build the house you planned. Your permit is at DPP – paid for and ready for pickup – but you need a minute to reassess.
Time: 334 days
Cost: $841,240
Mood: Demoralized
A month passes. After much consideration, you decide that you've made it this far. You'll scrape together the money, with help from your family, to build your house.
Time: 364 days
Cost: $814,640
Mood: Exahusted but hopeful
A month passes. After much consideration, you decide that you've made it this far. You'll scrape together the money, with help from your family, to build your house.
Time: 364 days
Cost: $836,240
Mood: Exahusted but hopeful
After much consideration, you decide that you've made it this far. You'll scrape together the money, with help from your family, to build your house.
Time: 364 days
Cost: $819,640
Mood: Exahusted but hopeful
After much consideration, you decide that you've made it this far. You'll scrape together the money, with help from your family, to build your house.
Time: 364 days
Cost: $841,240
Mood: Exahusted but hopeful
You can't get your permit. Pursuant to a city ordinance, permits that are approved and paid for but haven't been picked up 365 days after their application are automatically canceled. You forfeit your permit review fee and you have to start the permitting process all over again.
Time: 365 days
Paid: $14,640
Mood: Emotionally broken
You can't get your permit. Pursuant to a city ordinance, permits that are approved and paid for but haven't been picked up 365 days after their application are automatically canceled. You forfeit your permit review fee and you have to start the permitting process all over again.
Time: 365 days
Paid: $36,240
Mood: Emotionally broken
You can't get your permit. Pursuant to a city ordinance, permits that are approved and paid for but haven't been picked up 365 days after their application are automatically canceled. You forfeit your permit review fee and you have to start the permitting process all over again.
Time: 365 days
Paid: $19,640
Mood: Emotionally broken
You can't get your permit. Pursuant to a city ordinance, permits that are approved and paid for but haven't been picked up 365 days after their application are automatically canceled. You forfeit your permit review fee and you have to start the permitting process all over again.
Time: 365 days
Paid: $41,240
Mood: Emotionally broken



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