Planning Consent and Building Permits in the Cayman Islands: a Primer

Here is everything one ever needs to know about the law and regulations that govern the process of obtaining planning consent and building permits in the Cayman Islands.




In common with the UK, the Cayman Islands manages the development of its built environment and infrastructure by means of statutory planning controls administered by the Central Planning Authority (CPA) established by Government. It is the Development & Planning Law (D&P Law) and its attendant Regulations that together with the Development Plan 1997, provides the mechanism that controls the development of land in the Cayman Islands.

The Department of Planning, part of the Ministry of Planning, Lands, Agriculture, Housing & Infrastructure in the Cayman Islands Government (CIGDoP) administers the process of obtaining planning consents for development and monitors and enforces where necessary the conditions of any such consent gtny or otherwise. It is also responsible for implementing current planning policies, policy development and strategic planning issues in addition to administering and enforcing the Cayman Islands Building Code (CIBC) under the terms of its enabling Regulations as part of D&P Law.

Planning consent is required for any development of land or change of use and which includes the carrying out construction, engineering or other related operations in, on, over or under any land, or materially changing the use of any land or the use of any existing building or other improvement on the land as well as sub-dividing land. D&P Law and its Regulations allow for developments to be carried out under a dynamic Island-wide master Development Plan and determines development density and building height restrictions, parking and boundary setback requirements.

The CPA may request a hearing to further consider the merits of an application or any objections lodged against the application and there is a right of appeal by either applicant or bona fide objector to the (Appeals) Tribunal, provided such objection is not on frivolous grounds. The Tribunal is entitled to convene an inquiry in order to consider whether there are merits to the appeal or otherwise in terms of specific criteria against which the underlying planning grant or denial was made.


A building code by definition regulates and governs the conditions of design, construction, use, occupancy and maintenance of all premises, buildings and structures within a jurisdiction by providing the standards for supplied and installed materials, components, reticulation, utilities, equipment, apparatus, facilities and other physical things and conditions essential to ensure that such premises, buildings and structures are safe, sanitary and fit for occupation and use; and the condemnation of buildings and structures unfit for human occupancy and use and the demolition of such structures.

Although a sovereign British Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, the Cayman Islands is not bound by the provisions of the Building Act 1984 and Building (Scotland)Act 2003 and has independently adopted building code legislation similar to building codes as promulgated in several states of the United States of America from time to time.

Building codes as adopted in the Cayman Islands have historically been various iterations of the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) ‘Standard Building Code (SBC)’ drafted in 1945 and updated and adopted by most of the Southeastern United States and particularly those states most as risk of windstorm, hurricane and flooding occurrences such as Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and the Carolinas.

CIGDoP had adopted and ratified into the D&P Law the Standard Building Code prior to 1994 when SBCCI as part of the Council of American Building Officials (CABO), had joined other building code groups to form the International Code Council (ICC) to develop and deploy a unified building code that would have no regional limitations.

The first edition of the International Building Code was published in 1997. A new code edition has since been released every 3 years thereafter. The code was patterned on previously developed legacy codes and included SBCCI’s Standard Building Code. By 2000, ICC had completed the International Codes series and then abandoned development of SBCCI’s SBC in favour of its IBC suite of codes. The IBC suite of codes is either in use or adopted in all 50 states and territories of the United States of America as well as the District of Columbia. It is used as the basis of building codes adopted by the 15 countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), Jamaica and Georgia and also serves as the basis for legislative building codes in other jurisdictions including Mexico, Abu Dhabi and Haiti.

In 2006, CIGDoP ratified with amendments the 1999 Standard Building Code as CIBC which remained in use until 2016 when CIGDoP ratified the adoption of the 2009 edition of the ICC suite of building codes. It is anticipated in the long term that CIGDoP will recommend to Ministry that the latest edition of the ICC suite of codes be ratified as CIBC and which will include a mandatory 3-year code update cycle.


The CIBC is comprised of the following ICC codes augmented by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) National Electrical Code (NEC) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Safety Code for mechanical travel devices such as elevators. Note that these are the codes specifically defined and determined to comprise CIBC- no other code or other ICC code component is included in the definition of CIBC and as such, have no force or effect in the Cayman Islands:

2009 International Building Code (and the 2009 International Residential Code) in relation to the use, occupancy, design and construction of buildings and the provision of plant, machinery, apparatus and other fittings in or in connection with buildings

2009 International Plumbing Code in relation to every plumbing installation, including the alteration, repairing or replacement thereof, and to plumbing equipment, appliances, fixtures, fittings and appurtenances except where covered in the Cayman Islands Residential Code

2009 International Mechanical Code in relation to the installation of mechanical systems including the alteration, repair and replacement thereof and to appliances, fixtures, fittings and appurtenances, including ventilation, heating, cooling, air conditioning and refrigeration systems, incinerators and other mechanical systems

2009 International Fuel and Gas Code in relation to the installation, operation, alteration, repairing and replacement of gas piping, gas appliances and related accessories

2009 International Fire Code in relation to the protection of life and property from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions in new and existing buildings, structures and premises

ICC-600 2008 relating to standards for Residential Construction in High-Wind Regions, specifically prescriptive methods to provide wind resistant designs and construction details for residential buildings sited in high wind regions (supplement to the Cayman Islands Residential Code)

NFPA 70 National Electrical Code (NEC) 2014 edition as amended, in relation to safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect persons and property from electrical hazards

ASME Safety Codes, as amended

Elevators and Escalators ASME A17.1 /CSA B44- 2007, including Table 3001.7 as amended by Schedule 7;
Existing Elevators and Escalators (includes Requirements for Electric and Hydraulic Elevators and Escalators) ASME A17.3-2008; and
Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts ASME A18.1.- 2005

Note that CIBC (like its parent IBC) relies heavily on referenced standards as published by other standards organisations such as the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials (ASTM), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Code structural provisions also rely heavily on referenced standards such as ASCE-7 ‘Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Structures’ published by the American Society of Civil Engineers and ANSI /AISC 360 ‘Specification for Structural Steel Buildings’ by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

The IBC itself (2009 edition) consists of over 700 pages of code provisions and is divided into chapters each covering these major components

Building occupancy classifications
Building heights and areas
Means of egress
Materials used in construction
Foundation, wall and roof construction
Interior finishes
Fire protection systems (sprinkler system requirements and design)
Elevators and escalators
Existing structures


Generally, Code requirements apply to the construction of new buildings and alterations or additions to existing buildings, changes in the use of buildings and to the demolition of buildings or portions of buildings where no longer useful and are not otherwise retroactive except to correct an imminent hazard or as specifically required in Code.

Alterations and additions to an existing building must usually comply with all new requirements applicable to their scope as related to the intended use of the building as defined by the adopted code. Some changes in the use of a building often expose the entire building to the requirement to comply fully with provisions of the code applicable to the new use because the applicability of the code is use-specific. A change in use usually changes the applicability of code requirements and as such, will subject the building to review for compliance with currently applicable code requirements.

Existing buildings are not exempt from new requirements, and IBC provides alternative approaches to repair, alteration and additions to existing buildings which as a minimum, ensures that any new construction maintains the current level of Code compliance required under Cayman Islands law or is improved to meet mandatory levels of occupational and usage safety.

In both SBC historically and IBC when adopted as CIBC respectively, Chapter 34 ‘Existing Buildings’ remains the performance and prescription standard that governs the application of ‘new’ codes to existing buildings with regard to any new installation, renovation and redecoration work contemplated by a proprietor. It is presumed under Ch.34 CIBC and thus upheld under Cayman Islands law that any existing building in use and subject to upgrading, maintenance or renovation would originally have been issued a Certificate of Fitness for Occupation at its time of completion.

A general principle enshrined in Ch.34 CIBC is that where an existing building is to be redecorated, where electrical and mechanical fixtures and fittings (except electrical fittings required to be Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) listed) are intended to be replaced and where general repairs and maintenance is to be carried out to the building and its mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) reticulation and equipment systems, then such work may be carried out while still remaining in conformance with the CIBC iteration in force at the time of issue of a Certificate of Fitness for Occupation.

Where existing buildings are deficient in provision or compliance with current CIBC and particularly as regards the subject Resort in this Review, Ch.34 provides general and specific requirements for compliance and allows for alternative means of application or resolution where the Resort for technical or physical reasons cannot be brought to conformance.


The process of obtaining formal permission to construct a structure (building or to fit out core premises) is initiated on grant of Planning Consent by the Central Planning Authority of the Cayman Islands, a group of citizens appointed to the Authority by the Government and who are tasked with reviewing applications for planning consent and interpreting the D&P Law and Regulations as applicable to the scope, intent and usage of the development proposals under review.

Planning consent is granted under a list of terms and conditions that govern the procurement of the development- the most important of which is the specific direction that the proprietor make application for a building permit, the grant of which allows him to commence the procurement and completion of the subject structure (building or premises). Application for a permit is supported by the submission of plans, specifications and other building or structural performance data in formats proscribed by Code regulations, and with certain exceptions, to have been prepared by a registered design professional- an architect or engineer registered to practice as such in the Cayman Islands.

The Permit application submittals are reviewed by planning and building code reviewers certified by ICC as competent to do so and under the responsibility of the Director of Planning, CIGDoP as Building Officer provided for in Code, and upon determining that the structure (building or premises) meets the prescriptive and performance requirements of Code, issue the Permit for the project. The Permit is construed under D&P Law to be a license to proceed with the construction and assembly work and not to be construed as an authority to violate, cancel, alter or set aside any of the provisions of CIBC or other pertinent Laws and Regulations. Issuance of a Permit does not prevent the Building Control Officer from requiring correction of errors in plans or in construction, or of violations of Codes or other pertinent Laws and Regulations. Any permit so issued becomes invalid unless the work authorised by it has been commenced within a year after its issuance. After construction starts, inspections have to have been performed within 6-month intervals for the Permit to remain valid.


On issue of the Permit, the developer or proprietor proceeds to procure and construct the subject structure (building or premises) according to the design specifications, engineering and assembly of approved materials and components in accordance with Code requirements.

The Permit makes specific provisions for regular inspections of the construction and completion of work and carried out according to a set of minimum thresholds or stages. These are

FOOTING OR FOUNDATIONS: Made after trenches are excavated, all form-work and bulkheads erected and all required reinforcing steel in place.

GRADE FLOOR SLABS: Made after all form-work erected and vapour barrier and required reinforcing steel in place.

WALLS: Made after the walls have been erected to the belt beam and the beam reinforcement in place but prior to the placement of concrete.

FRAMING: Made after the roof, all framing, fire blocking, roof sheathing and bracing in place. All concealed vent ducts, plumbing pipes and electrical wiring are installed. Reinforcing steel or structural framework cannot be covered or concealed before an inspection and approval.

FINAL: Made after the work authorised by the Permit is complete and usually after electrical and plumbing approvals have been given.


UNDERGROUND PIPING: Made after trenches or ditches are excavated, piping installed and before any back-fill is placed.
ROUGH-IN: Made after the roof, framing, fire blocking and bracing are in place and all soil, waste and vent pipe reticulation is complete, and prior to the installation of wall or ceiling membranes.
FINAL: Made after the structure (building or premises) is complete, all plumbing fixtures are in place and property connected, and structure is ready for occupancy.


TEMPORARY CONSTRUCTION POWER: Made after pole, meter socket, service equipment weatherproof receptacle and ground-fault circuit interrupter are in place.
FLOOR SLABS: Made after conduits, raceways, boxes and fittings are in place and rigidly secure prior to concrete placement.
ROUGH-IN: Made after panel locations are determined, all boxes, cables, conduits and raceways are in place and all wire connections are completed.
FINAL: Made after all devices, fixtures, and equipment are in place and ready for occupancy.

Other mandatory inspections are required for mechanical services installation, local Cayman Islands Fire Department inspections (sprinklers and fire hydrants, alarm systems) and CIGDoP planning consent conditions compliance verification.

Sign-offs indicating these inspections are provided for on the Permit form, and substantiate the structure’s (building’s or premises’) compliance with Code. The Certificate of Fitness for Occupation may not be issued without these inspections and the implied approvals of compliance with Code.


The issue of a Certificate of Fitness for Occupancy (CFO or sometimes CO) in favour of a particular building or project is statutory evidence that the building has been completed and commissioned in conformance and compliance with the provisions of the D&P Law and the Building Code Regulations valid and in force at the time of issue of such Certificate.

Where multiple occupancies occur within a building or project, a Certificate of Fitness of Occupancy is issued where it has been determined that the requirements for the particular occupancy classification has been met. A particular building or project can thus have multiple Certificate of Occupation reflecting its various occupancies as defined in CIBC.

The certificate is issued pursuant to Regulation 34 of the Development and Planning Regulations (2017 Revision) and Section 111 of CIBC and certifies that at the time of its issuance, the subject structure (building or premises) is in compliance with the approved Permit documentation, is fit for occupancy and additionally, certifies that the structure (building or premises)by implication meets the requirements and conditions of the Central Planning Authority. The issued Certificate of Fitness for Occupancy becomes null and void in the event that an unauthorised change is made in the occupancy, nature or use of the structure (building or premises) or part thereof, and by implication is in violation of the terms and conditions of grant of Planning Consent.


Where under a separate Permit application, work is approved for installation of equipment or ancillary accommodations or structures not necessarily being habitable or occupiable space, the Building Official will on approved completion of the work in compliance with Code, issue a Certificate of Completion (CC) for that permit work scope and which is in itself prima facie evidence of completion in accordance with Code requirements and has an equivalency with a Certificate of Fitness for Occupation unless the permit work scope is a component of a larger work scope that is determined by a separate and overarching Certificate of Fitness for Occupancy (e.g. elevator installation, or standby generator etc).


The Building Official is empowered under s.34 of the D&P Law Regulations to grant ‘temporary’ Special Permission to Occupy (SPO) specific areas or entire premises to be occupied pending the issue of a Certificate of Fitness for Occupation.

The circumstances that give rise to the issue of such a certificate may be unavoidable delay in equipment or components, or other emergency situations requiring occupation. A common reason for issue of a SPO or a series of SPOs is where staged of phased completion of a sequence of specific areas or occupiable spaces can then be occupied prior to the issue of an overarching CFO on completion of the final component of the sequence.

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