Building in Tahoe
Thinking of building in Lake Tahoe? Here are some basics to get started!
There are a lot of different factors that go into building in the Lake Tahoe basin. In addition to typical County and City requirements, there is a federal jurisdiction that has their own requirements. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, or TRPA, is our local federal jurisdiction which oversees nearly everything along the Tahoe basin. With 5 Counties and 2 states along Lake Tahoe, the TRPA does have jurisdiction on all the lakeside communities in Lake Tahoe. You cannot simply move to another county or cross a stateline to avoid compliance with the TRPA. Below is a list of some of the most common ideas and language to understand when building in Lake Tahoe
Each lot is given what is called an “IPES” score by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. IPES stands for Individual Parcel Evaluation System.
The IPES score determines how much COVERAGE you are allowed to build upon a lot. Coverage is considered anything that is not permeable (driveway, garage, house, walkways, patios. etc.). Each property is given their own IPES score which is based on a number of criteria including slope, accessibility to utilities, sensitive areas, etc. Different counties have different buildable scores. For instance, in Placer County an undeveloped lot must have a score of 726 or higher to be considered buildable. In El Dorado County, however, you can have a score as low as Zero (0) and your lot may still be considered buildable
For more information on land coverage, visit the TRPA website
2. ALLOCATIONS & PERMITS
Allocations are permits given to the County or City by the TRPA to allow lots to be built. Every other year, TRPA gives the County or City a set number of allocations. These allocations are distributed by the corresponding planning department. Some years there is a waitlist and others, you can apply and receive an allocation. If you are not ready to build yet but want to purchase a lot for future building, take into consideration the waitlist period and/or feasibility of building in the future. Call your local planning department to see where the allocations stand for your county/city. Through the planning department, you will also apply for additional permits for building. The following planning department websites are great resources for the areas around Lake Tahoe.
Placer County Planning Department
El Dorado County Planning Department
City of South Lake Tahoe Planning Department
Washoe County Planning Department
Douglas County Planning Department
3. RESEARCH ON PARCELS
There are great resources to help with your research on a specific parcel you are interested in. By doing your homework first, you are able to avoid headaches later! If land capability or land coverage have already been verified on your property (or was approved as part of a past permit), there is no need for another evaluation. Visit the parcel tracker to view TRPA records relating to land coverage, land capability, and IPES. In some cases, your local building department may have land capability and coverage data in their records.
CLICK HERE for the parcel tracker site
If there is no coverage information on the parcel tracker site for the parcel you are researching, you will need a site assessment completed by TRPA to receive an IPES score to determine buildability. Many seller’s complete this prior to putting a lot on the market, but not all. If a site assessment is not completed, the best way to make an educated guess would be to look at the environmental impacts that your lot may have as well as the IPES scores of surrounding lots. It is highly recommended that a site assessment be completed PRIOR to purchasing the lot. If that is not practicable, you can hire a local surveyor do some rough calculations for existing coverage, or again, hire a land use consultant to determine all your parcel development rights
4. Site ASSESSMENTS
Prior to applying for a permit to modify or expand the footprint of your residence, you must first determine if you have land coverage available. Land coverage is a man-made structure, improvement, or covering that prevents normal precipitation from directly reaching the surface of the land. Such structures, improvements or improvements could include roofs, decks, paved surfaces, walkways, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts and patios. Land coverage can also include compacted soil used for walking or driving on. TRPA limits the amount of coverage in order protect lake clarity by maximizing the amount of land available to infiltrate water and filter nutrients. To obtain a site assessment, we strongly urge you to contact a land use consultant. However, a local surveyor will assist in doing a site assessment, which is in essence, a survey of your property that shows any improvements and any existing or allowable coverage left. This is then forwarded to the TRPA for review and approval with an application and corresponding fee.
5. PURCHASING COVERAGE
In some instances, more coverage is permitted on a lot and additional coverage can be purchased from the Tahoe Conservancy land bank, or the private marketplace on the TRPA website. Check out the following websites for more information. Again, it is strongly encouraged to seek the assistance of a land use consultant to see what development options you may have when considering purchasing coverage
6. ADDING ONTO EXISTING STRUCTURES
The most common question I get asked is “can I add a garage or expand?” This question doesn’t have a yes or no answer. There are many different factors that go into answering that question. Again refer to the above about coverage and site assessments.
If you are planning to demolish all of the buildings on the property and start from scratch, you should get a site assessment and land coverage verification so they can map out how much existing coverage was already on the property and ‘grandfather’ it in. You can also re-allocate coverage from one part of your property to another. By vacating old coverage you may be able to move to another area to satisfy your wish list. For example, you may have a little used back deck that was counted as coverage in years previous, but you are okay to remove it and use the same amount of square footage for a room expansion elsewhere on the property. These are options you may be able to employ. However, keep in mind that if the property is at max capacity of what is buildable, you will NOT be able to continue building on the property. You might be able to go up but not out. That is why many homes in Tahoe are vertical and single story ranch homes are not as common.
A site assessment is something that is not usually done by a seller when an existing structure exists prior to TRPA’s existence. It’s up to the next owner to want to go through that process. Due to the many different factors that go into adding onto existing structures, it is highly recommended to hire a consultant to help you through this process.
To find out if the current lot has had a site assessment done
The utility companies differ from county to county and city to city. A prudent buyer will research the various entities to determine if they provide service to your lot. Just because a neighbor has service does not necessarily mean your lot has service at the lot lines. Internet is no exception and should be considered as not all areas are serviced by high speed, or satellite internet. You may reach out to the following utilities to see if they can deliver a “Will serve” notice for your lot.
At & T
Spectrum by Charter
Hughes Net (Satellite internet)
Starlink (Satellite Internet)
Liberty Utilities – South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, North Lake Tahoe
Southwest Gas – Tahoe Basin
Tahoe City PUD – Tahoe City
North Tahoe PUD – Kings Beach
Truckee PUD – Truckee and Donner
Douglas County Sewer and Water – Douglas County
NV Energy – Nevada Counties and Cities
8. RENTAL POTENTIAL
Want to rent your house in the future? Please refer to the Short Term Vacation rental guide on this site for more on areas with short term vacation rental permits and/or restrictions.
9. THANK YOU
A huge thank you to Kili Rahbeck for her insight and information that helped develop this article