Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is my zoning?

A planner can tell you in which zoning district your property is located. You will need to provide either your street address or Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) or both. You can send an email to or you can call the planner-on-duty at (415) 899-8989 between 9:00 – 5:00 Monday-Friday, or you can visit the office in person during walk-in counter hours 9:00-11:00 Monday - Thursday. Please note that the offices are closed every other Friday. Please check our calendar for closed days.  You may need to leave a voice mail for the planner. The Planning Services Division has a policy of making every effort to return telephone calls within 24 hours. We hope to have a digitized version of the Zoning Map available on this web site in the near future.

2. What are my setback requirements for an addition to my home?

The Planning Division maintains a map that shows zoning for every parcel in the City. The map can be viewed at the Planning Services Counter, or anyone can call 899-8989 to speak with a planner regarding specific zoning, setback, and related questions. Each zoning district establishes minimum setback requirements for the front, sides and rear yards. Some lots, such as "flag lots" or oddly configured lots, require that planning staff make a determination with respect to where each setback applies. Staff will consider the access to the lot and orientation of the house among other factors when making such a determination.

3. Can I build a storage arbor/shed/garage in my back yard?

Residential accessory structures are permitted within residential zones. Placement is dependent on minimum setbacks, maximum height requirements and lot coverage which are dependent on your property’s zoning. Call Planning Services to obtain the specific standards for your property.

Please Click Here to access the accessory structures section of the Novato Municipal Code. Scroll down to section 19.34.032 Accessory Residential Uses and Structures.

4. Do I need a building permit to build a fence?

If you build a fence over six feet tall a building permit is required.  An eight-foot tall fence, provided the top two feet are constructed of 50% open lattice or equivalent (i.e. chain link), is allowed on property lines at the rear and sides of most properties when not adjoining a street. Fences within the front yard are allowed up to three feet  within 15 feet of the back of the sidewalk, or the back of the curb, if there is no sidewalk, or the edge of the improved roadway if there is no sidewalk or curb; six feet elsewhere within the front setback.  Please note that the requirements are different for corner parcels and that the sidewalk edge may not be the property line.

5. What are the requirements to establish a business in my home?

If you wish to conduct a business from your home within the City of Novato, you must file for a Home Occupation Permit and City Business License.  The requirements to be eligible for a Home Occupation Permit are noted on the Home Occupation Permit and can be accessed by clicking here.

6. Where can I Report a Zoning or Building Code Violation?

To report potential zoning and building code violations you may contact the Code Enforcement Team at (415) 899-8989, or download a complaint form and mail or fax it to us.

7. Can I add on to my house?

Any addition and remodeling first requires approval by the Planning Services Division prior to issuance of building permits. If a proposed improvement is determined to be minor in nature, would not cause a significant visual impact, and is only a first floor addition, it may be achieved through the building permit review process. If a proposed improvement were determined to be significant and has the potential to cause a significant visual impact or a second story addition is proposed, then Design Review would be required.  Design Review may be done at the Staff level or may be done by the Design Review Committee. Additional information regarding Design Review is available by clicking here and at the Planning Services Division during normal business hours.

8. What is the Process if I need to Remove a Tree from my Property?

The City regulates the removal or alteration of trees to preserve scenic beauty, maintain property values, minimize erosion problems, and maintain the attractiveness of the Novato area. A tree removal/alteration permit is required on private property to:
  1. Remove a tree more than 6 inches in diameter (19 inches in circumference) located on vacant land or properties other than developed single-family lots; or
  2. Remove, trim, prune, or alter a heritage tree. A heritage tree has a diameter of 24 inches or more (circumference of 75 inches or more) measured 24 inches above existing grade. All tree removal work shall be conducted by licensed tree care professionals.
Please click here to go to the City of Novato Tree Removal Guide.

9. Can I convert my garage into living space?

A garage can be converted to living space (e.g., bedroom, family room, etc…) if the required number of parking spaces are provided and the appropriate interior garage dimensions of 20-feet by 20-feet for a 2-car garage or 10-feet by 20-feet for a single car garage are provided.  If only a one car garage is provided, an additional independently accessible paved 9 feet by 19 feet space must be provided outside of the required front yard setback. 
  • Single-family dwellings require 2 parking spaces, 1 in a garage.
  • Duplexes require 2 spaces for each unit, 1 in a garage, and located within 100 feet of the unit it serves.
10. Where can I locate a business in the City?

To locate a business in Novato, a business license must be issued by the City and the business located in the appropriate zoning district. For example, a retail business would be located within a retail zoning district and an administrative office in an office district. The Planning Division maintains a map that shows zoning for every parcel in the City. To ask questions regarding a specific business you are proposing to establish and to determine what the requirements might be, you may call 899-8989 to speak with a planner or send an email request to

11. Why does the City have all these land use rules? Why can't I just do what I want with my property?

The General Plan sets forth the general principles and strategies to be used by the City to guide land use decisions and the growth and development, as shaped by the public, City Council and Planning Commissioners. Federal and State land use laws and regulations aside, the City of Novato has established land use regulations to protect the health and general welfare of all citizens and to manage growth and development responsibly. Citizens themselves through their opportunity to vote for their elected officials and to participate in public meetings, affect what kind of regulations the City adopts. Zoning has been in place since the City incorporated in 1960 and the current Novato Zoning Ordinance has been amended several times since its adoption in 2001. Each amendment process involves significant public involvement and input. Any member of the public, as well as the City Council, Planning Services Division staff or the Planning Commission may initiate an amendment at any time.

12. Why is land use permit required?

The Novato Zoning Ordinance regulates the development and use of land within the City. These regulations protect the health, safety and general welfare of residents and property owners by creating zones to prevent incompatible uses in close proximity to each other. The regulations also maintain the character of established neighborhoods and prevent inappropriate activates, such as alcohol sales near parks and schools. Permitted and conditional uses are designated for each zoning district and are listed in the Novato Zoning Ordinance. Permitted uses are controlled by specific regulation, such as setback from a structure to the property line, height of the structure, number of parking spaces, etc. An example of a permitted use is a single-family residence. A land use permit is required when a proposed use may have a different operating characteristic than those permitted in the zoning district, such as a grocery store in an office zoning district. A land use permit typically includes conditions particular to the requested use to ensure that the use is compatible with the uses within the zoning district is located.