Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re a homeowner planning a project for the first time, the permit process can seem confusing. This page will provide information and tips to clarify permitting for you.
If you are a homeowner working on your residence, you may act as your own general contractor. This means that you may perform the construction work yourself and/or hire licensed subcontractors to work with you. Homeowners must get the same permits as a contractor would. If you intend to act as your own contractor, you will need to sign the permit application acknowledging your responsibilities as an owner/contractor.
If you have questions concerning your eligibility to work on a building, please call 406-258-3701.
The Health Department issues permits for septic systems and wells. There are no exemptions allowed for homeowners who do their own work. Septic systems can only be put in by installers certified by the Health Department. An updated list of certified installers is available online. If you are interested in becoming a certified septic installer, please call or email the Health Department.
Missoula County does not have certification requirements for well drillers. State law requires water well contractors and drillers to be licensed by the Board of Water Well Contractors. Review the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Water Well Drilling for the Prospective Well Owner handbook and its list of licensed drillers/contractors for more information.
An issued building permit will be considered abandoned if 180 days pass and no work is done. An issued permit will expire at 365 days of issuance. You may request an extension by calling the Public Works Building Division at 406-258-3701.
A septic permit will expire two years from the issue date. A well permit will expire one year after the issue date.. A well permit holder may request a one-year extension by contacting the Health Department before the initial one-year expiration date.
The Missoula County Building Division was created to enforce state building codes in 2006. The county also began issuing land use permits in 2006, while zoning compliance permits have been required since 1976. Any work prior to these dates in Missoula County jurisdiction would not require a permit. Some commercial work may require a permit through the State of Montana. If in doubt on whether your building must be covered by a state building permit, call 406-841-2056.
Permits can be issued and inspections can be performed for existing work that was done without a permit that was needed. The process is the same as is required for new work, except that covered work will need to be exposed to verify that it was installed to code and according to the approved plans. The inspector will work with you to determine the extent of covered work that may need to be exposed. Review the permit fee information for details on any additional fees.
If a well or septic system is installed without a permit, the Health Department will direct the property owner to take the appropriate steps to obtain permits for the system or well, as long as the illegal system or well meets location and construction requirements. The Health Department charges three times the current permit and application fees if the system was installed without permits.
If your property is in a platted subdivision, you may be required to install a water source for fire suppression. Please check with Community and Planning Services about requirements for your specific property before submitting your permit application. If a system is required, your application will need to include additional information demonstrating compliance with your subdivision's fire suppression regulations.
Depending on your project, you may need to submit plans that label rooms in a structure. This sometimes results in confusion, because the Building Division and Health Department approach bedrooms differently.
If a space is labeled as a bedroom on plans you submit to the Building Division, it must have:
- A means of egress, i.e., a way to exit the structure in an emergency. Building code defines a suitable means of egress as a window that has an area of 5.7 square feet when open, with a minimum width of 20 inches and minimum height of 24 inches. The window sill must be no more than 44 inches from the floor.
- A smoke detector
- A carbon monoxide detector
The Building Division will verify these criteria have been met before issuing your permits.
The Health Department, on the other hand, must count any room that could reasonably be used as a bedroom, even if you don’t currently plan to use it as one. This is because the Health Department must make sure your septic system is sized appropriately for any possible increases in use.
In general, these features or qualifications support a space being designated as bedroom:
- Means of egress
- Area greater than 70 square feet
- Defined as a bedroom by an assessor or on the building plans
- Room is next a bathroom
- Room is on the second level but not a bathroom
- Room is in an accessory building without plumbing
Features or qualifications that may disqualify a space from being designated as a bedroom include:
- Room is obviously a kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining room, laundry room, storage room (without windows) or family room.
- Rooms with no door, large entryways, half walls or other features limiting privacy
- Low ceilings
- No source of ventilation or lighting from outside
- Rooms used as a passage to other rooms
- Open lofts that lead to other rooms
- Media rooms with sloped floors
- Rooms with mechanical facilities or laundry plumbing connections
- Room in a separate building that is not finishing living space, such as a storage shed or greenhouse
For more details on how the Health Department designates bedrooms, read Identifying Bedrooms to Determine Wastewater Design Flows.
This depends on the use of the structure. If it's for an agricultural use, no building permit is required. You'll still need a land use/zoning compliance permit and an agricultural exemption. This exemption needs to be signed and notarized, then recorded. That form and more information are available on the Resources tab under the Exemptions category.
If it is not going to be used for agricultural purposes, then a building permit is required, as well as a land use/zoning compliance permit. All pole barns requiring a building permit must be engineered. In Missoula County, the design criteria to be used for pole barns, as well as garages, carport and storage buildings, will meet, at a minimum, Risk Category II criteria as stated in Table 1604.5 of the International Building Code. Risk Category III and IV structures are determined by the importance of the structure and occupancy category as stated in the Building Code.
Frequently Asked Questions: Tourist Homes
(VRBO, Airbnb, etc.)
What is a tourist home (sometimes called a vacation rental)?
A tourist home is a private residence that is not occupied by an owner or manager and that is rented, leased or furnished in its entirety to transient guests, daily or weekly.
Is a tourist home allowed in my neighborhood?
There are several factors that determine whether you are allowed to have a tourist home on your property. These factors include but are not limited to: zoning, subdivision conditions, covenants and sanitation limitations. Every project is different, so it is best to check with Community and Planning Services for land use restrictions (email@example.com or 258-4657) and the Missoula City-County Health Department for sanitation restrictions (firstname.lastname@example.org or 258-4770). Please ensure a tourist home is allowed at your location before completing the health department plan review.
Are tourist homes considered a commercial business?
Yes, for zoning purposes, tourist homes are considered a commercial business and are not permitted in zoning districts that prohibit commercial usage.
Do I need a building permit to work on or construct my tourist home?
Yes, any new construction is required to apply for building and land use/zoning compliance permits. If you are planning a small remodel or trade work, it’s a good idea to contact the Missoula County Building Division (email@example.com or 258-3701) and Missoula County Community & Planning Services (258-4657 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to determine if a permit is required.
Do I need a health department license to operate a tourist home?
Yes! The State of Montana requires tourist homes to go through local health department plan review and then get an annual operating license.
What is the point of a health license?
Our job at Missoula City-County Health Department (MCCHD) is to evaluate conditions in your tourist home that could affect the health of the traveling public. We look at general housekeeping, pest control, laundry practices, chemical storage areas, bathroom and kitchen safety concerns, garbage storage, drinking water and wastewater disposal. Licensing helps you know how to comply with applicable regulations and benefits both Montana's tourist industry and your guests by maintaining safe and healthy conditions.
How much does plan review cost?
Plan review for a tourist home in Missoula County starts at $200. Additional fees of $50 may apply if water and/or wastewater review is necessary. The Missoula City-County Health Department conducts the review. This does not include any fess associated with required Building or Land Use/Zoning Compliance Permits.
How much does a license cost?
The state Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) requires a $40 annual license fee for a tourist home. The first year, the Missoula City-County Health Department will collect this fee, in the form of a check or money order made payable to “DPHHS,” upon approval of the plan review and completion of the pre-operation inspection. The fee is then payable on the DPHHS website in subsequent years.
Where can I get more information and application forms related to tourist homes?
- The MCCHD plan review application can be found on Missoula County’s website: https://www.missoulacounty.us/home/showpublisheddocument/31948/637511409714000000, or at the MCCHD offices 301 W. Alder St. Missoula, 2nd floor. You may also contact us at email@example.com, and we’ll email you a copy.
- The Administrative Rules of Montana governing tourist homes can be found at http://www.mtrules.org (ARMs 37.111.101-.135)
Where do I submit my plan review application?
Submit your completed plan review application, and fees, to the Environmental Health Department on the 2nd floor of 301 W. Alder St., Missoula, MT 59802, or email the application to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My tourist home is served by municipal sewer. Do I need to have my wastewater reviewed?
A wastewater review is not required if you are on municipal sewer, but you may be required to show proof of your connection.
Will I have to upgrade my septic?
We will evaluate whether your septic is adequately sized during the plan review process.
How often are tourist homes inspected?
Inspections are required before licensing and upon complaint. We’ll also do a routine inspection once every one to three years. If a building permit is required, inspections are conducted throughout the course of construction or trade work.
What is involved in a tourist home inspection?
There are a number of public health issues addressed, including but not limited to:
- Is the home clean?
- Is there any sign of pest infestation (bed bugs, rodents, etc.), past or present?
- Where, when and how is the laundry washed, dried and stored?
- Where, when and how are the dishes washed and sanitized?
- When and how are kitchens and bathrooms cleaned and sanitized?
- Is the water coming out of the tap at least 100 ºF, but not over 120ºF?
- Is the wastewater system (sewer or septic) functioning properly?
- Is the water supply clean and safe?
- Where, when and how is trash disposed, stored and collected, and are those areas kept clean?