So you want to build in Tahoe? Let’s get started!

There are a lot of different factors that go into building, and specifically building in Tahoe. Tahoe is a very unique area. In addition to typical County and City requirements, there is a federal jurisdiction that has their own requirements. A lot of what you read on the real estate descriptions of lots can be misunderstood. Once you understand the basic concept, it can help you understand how to go about building in Tahoe

Each lot is given an IPES score by TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency – the federal jurisdiction). 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, etc.). An IPES score can be determined because of different environmental changes in the land. For example, if a stream runs through your property, your IPES score could be low which in turn makes your allotted coverage percentage low. Different counties have different buildable scores.
For more information on land coverage, visit the TRPA website:

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 amount of allocations and these allocations are distributed by the planning department. Some years there is a waitlist and others, you are able to 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.
City of South Lake Tahoe Planning Department
El Dorado County Planning Department
Washoe County Planning Department
Douglas County Planning Department
Placer County Planning Department

There are great resources to help with your research on a specific parcel that you are interested in. By doing your homework first, you are able to avoid headaches later! All lots will need a site assessment completed by TRPA to receive an IPES score to determine buildability (see #1 for what IPES scores mean). Most 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. To look up parcels and their information:

In some instances more coverage is permitted on the lot. Additional coverage can be purchased from the Tahoe Conservancy land bank or the private marketplace on the TRPA website. The lower the IPES score, the higher the price to purchase land coverage. Alternatively, the higher the IPES score, the lower the price to purchase land coverage. Check out the following websites for more information.

The utility companies differ from county to county and city to city. It is important to get ‘will serve’ letters from the utility companies in your county or city to note that the utility companies WILL SERVICE the indicated lots. Check with the different utility companies to get these letters prior to close of escrow.
South Tahoe Public Utility District – South Lake Tahoe
Liberty Utilities – South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, North Lake Tahoe
Southwest Gas – Tahoe Basin
Douglas County Sewer and Water – Douglas County
NV Energy – Nevada Counties and Cities
Tahoe City PUD – Tahoe City
North Tahoe PUD – Kings Beach
Truckee PUD – Truckee and Donnor

The most common question I get asked is “can I add on?” This question doesn’t have a yes or no answer. There are many different factors that go into answering that question. 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. 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.
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 higher a consultant to help you through this process.
To find out if the current lot has had a site assessment done: