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Retaining Wall Residential Permits

Apply for a residential retaining wall permit in the City of Portland. Get the building permit application and helpful forms for a complete retaining wall permit application. Then, apply online for a retaining wall residential permit. Find out if you need a permit for a retaining wall.
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When you need a permit for a retaining wall 

A building permit is required when constructing a retaining wall that:

  • is more than four (4) feet high, measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall.
  • supports a surcharge. A surcharge is an additional load, beyond the normal weight of a level earth backfill is to holding back.

If a building permit is not needed, you may need a zoning permit - contact Planning and Zoning with questions. For complex sites or if slope stabilization is needed, you may need a Site Development permit - contact Site Development with questions. 

Who can do the work 

Contractors must have a license to work in Oregon. The Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB) issues licenses to contractors. The permit application and their company materials must list the license number. Need help finding a contractor? The CCB website has good tips on how to search for one. Plumbing and electrical contractors have additional license requirements.  

If you are a homeowner doing the work yourself, please note what is required for a completed application. The State of Oregon has some helpful information for homeowners: 

Building permit application and important forms and information 

The following information is part of the application. This is everything you might need when applying for a retaining wall permit. Since every project is unique, there may be some situations where you will be asked to provide additional information. Things you need to apply for this permit may include some or all of the following. Read more about site plans and what to include in your application.

If you aren't sure what forms you need, contact Permitting Services. Permit forms include: 

Building permit application

 Additional forms for a retaining wall permit application 

Step 1: Research what you need for a residential retaining wall 

Codes and Rules

Residential Retaining walls that require building permits are regulated by the following codes: 

Other codes may apply based on the scope of work. The City and State Codes, Administrative Rules, Code Guides and Program Guides web page has the codes, administrative rules, code guides and program guides.

Permit Fees

Permit fees are based on the type of permit, the work proposed, the valuation of the work, and the staff that need to review the work. Get permit fee information.

Step 2: What you need to get a residential retaining wall permit

In addition to the building permit application, you will need a site plan (often called a plot plan) and engineering information to get your permit. An engineer registered in the State of Oregon must provide stamped drawings and calculations for wall(s) over four feet tall.

Since every project is unique, there may be some situations where you will be asked to provide additional information.

Site plan (Scale site plans to most appropriate scale, e.g. 1”=10’ or 1/4”=1’)

  • Property lines, with dimensions
  • Adjacent streets and any easements
  • Property address and R number
  • North arrow
  • Distance between buildings and between buildings and property lines
  • Dimensions and area (in square feet) of any proposed paving. (If your project will add more than 500 square feet of impervious area you will need to provide a mitigation form and/or a stormwater plan)
  • Dimensions and placement of the new retaining wall on the lot

Structural Engineer stamped drawings and calculations 

Design of retaining walls over four feet tall should include a site sketch consistent with the site plan submitted with the application.

Or, instead of a site sketch in the calculation package, the engineer may submit a letter stating that the calculations were prepared for the site as shown on the submitted site plan prepared by others.

Where the retaining wall influences the loads on a building, the engineering evaluation should address the effect of the loads imposed onto the building. In all cases, and especially where tiered retaining walls are proposed, the analysis shall include complete free-body diagrams of the retaining walls showing all loads acting on the retaining wall system and all loads used to resist the applied forces. The calculations shall clearly state all assumptions and list the soil design parameters used in the design.

Geotechnical Report

Some sites may require a geotechnical report.

Site development review

Depending upon the placement of the building or structure, the following items must be addressed in evaluation and analysis of the design:

  • Slope and retaining wall drainage
  • Erosion control
  • Potential for shallow failures
  • Potential soil creep
  • Potential settlement
  • Effect of surcharge loads such as new building and/or structure footings
  • Protection of adjacent property and existing building during construction

For more information contact Site Development & Septic Review. 

Right-of-way requirements

If your project requires construction in the public right-of-way, Transportation will review the project, and issue a separate transportation permit for this work as well. For more information about right-of-way requirements, contact Transportation at (503) 823-7002.

Make sure that the design of your retaining wall does not result in a section of the foundation or specifically the “toe” (the outside points of each leg of a structural angle) needing to be placed off of your property.

Soils and/or structural special inspections

Soils special inspections and/or structural special inspections may be required prior or during the construction of your retaining wall.

Soils special inspections may be required for work that includes foundation work of a more complicated nature such as piling, or foundations on steep slopes or large jobs; and retaining walls, landslide slope remediation work or other earthwork-related work. Soils special inspection is performed by the geotechnical engineer of record and/or an approved testing agency and is hired for this purpose by the (permit holder) property owner. View more information on special inspections in the related webpage.

Step 2b: Still need help? Schedule a 15-minute appointment 

If you have questions after reviewing the information on this page, we recommend you book a free 15-minute appointment with us. 

This is an optional step. We're here for you if you have questions about the information and materials you need to apply. 

If you need help, here are some experts we recommend you meet with for this project*: 

Meet with a Permit Technician 

  • Schedule this appointment if you have questions about the permit process. Permit technicians will provide you with the information found on this page. 
  • Get help with permit application requirements. 

These are optional meetings. Only book if you have questions. 

Meet with a Permit Technician

Meet with a City Planner 

  • We recommend you meet with city planner about planning and zoning or tree code requirements before submitting building permits.  
  • Get information on rules that apply to your property. 

These are optional meetings. Only book if you have questions.

Meet with a City Planner

Meet with a Building Code and Engineering Reviewer

  • Get help with building code and engineering requirements. 
  • To submit a question by phone, call Building Code Plan Review.  

These are optional meetings. Only book if you have questions. 

Meet with a Building Code and Engineering Reviewer

*Not all review groups may be listed. The groups listed above will help get you started. 

Step 3: Apply for a residential retaining wall building permit 

To apply for a permit, submit the completed building permit application and site, architectural and structural plans (for the area of proposed work and areas affected by such work) and engineering calculations.

You can submit your permit application request online.

Get step-by-step instructions submitting a permit application request online or in-person. 

For most projects, electronic plans are submitted through the Single PDF process. Large scale projects such as commercial new construction are submitted though PDX E-plans and ProjectDox. If you are unable to create electronic plans, please call us and we will work with you.

Step 4: Plan review process and checksheets

You can check the status of a permit review on Portland Maps permit/case search. Many people might review a single permit. The Permit Review Process webpage has more information about the groups who review permits. 

A checksheet is sent to the applicant when a reviewer needs additional information or a correction has to be made to the plans. Read more about how to send us corrections and how to prepare corrected paper plans.

Step 5: Get your retaining wall permit 

When the last technical review is approved, your permit will be pre-issued. Pre-issuance is the last permit check. This step ensures all required reviews took place, all required approval stamps are on the plans, and the fees are charged correctly.

You will be contacted when your permit is ready, and notified of your final fee total. Instructions will be given on how to get your approved permit and pay your fees. Your permit is not issued until all fees are paid. 

Find out if a permit application is still under review, in process or about to be issued.

Step 6: Start building and get ready for inspection 

The inspection card lists all the inspections you will likely need during your construction project, and what work needs to be done first.  

Once your building permit is issued, erosion control measures and sometimes tree protection measures must be installed, inspected and approved prior to beginning any further ground-disturbing activities.

All permits need a final approval inspection to be complete.

Step 7: Schedule an inspection, get inspection results and make corrections

To schedule an inspection, call the automated inspection request line. You will need your IVR or permit number and the three digit code for the inspection.

Get the results of the inspection on Portland Maps permit/case search the next day. Read more about why work does not get approved and how to schedule a reinspection.

Contact residential inspectors about your permit inspections

If you have questions before or after your inspection, you can talk to an inspector.

More information about residential permits