The Department of Permits and Licenses was established on February 28, 1967 with the amalgamation of a variety of inspection, licensing, and business tax units, to coalesce, within a couple of years, into the following primary divisions: the new office of Director, the head of the expanded Department; the Building Inspection Office (comprised of the former Building Department, including its head, still called the Building Inspector, with the addition of Electrical Inspection, formerly part of the Electrical Department, and two Engineering offices, the Smoke Inspector and the Septic Tank Inspector); and the License and Business Tax Office (a unit moved intact, along with its head, the City License Inspector and Business Tax Collector, from the Finance Department). The authority for the department's regulatory activities derives from the Vancouver Incorporation Act of 1886 (section 120, "Powers of Council to Pass By-laws") and its subsequent amendments and revisions, and is supplemented by the British Columbia Municipal Act which defines municipal standards relating to public safety, public health, and business regulation. The intricacies of almost continual structural fine tunings can best be summarized by brief notes on functions including air pollution monitoring, animal control, building and development permit processing, building inspection, business licensing and taxation, City owned buildings construction and maintenance, electrical inspection, gas inspection, industrial waste inspection, plumbing inspection, and properties inspection. These functions evolved as follows:
(1) Air pollution monitoring. Carried out by the smoke inspectors of the Engineering Department until 1967; part of Permits and Licenses' responsibilities 1967-1971. In 1971 the GVRD took over this function.
(2) Animal control. Operation of the City Pound and issuance of animal licenses was carried out by the License and Business Tax Office of the Finance Department until 1967, then moved to the Permits and Licenses Department.
(3) Building and development permit processing. The building permit process is primarily overseen by plan checkers who work closely with the building trades, while development permits were monitored by the Building Inspector, then by the zoning staff within the Planning Department. However, there has always been a close relationship and overlap between the two functions (zoning was part of Permits and Licenses for a short period, approximately 1967-1969).
(4) Building inspection. City Council first spoke of the need for a Building Inspector in June 1899 (referring the matter to the Board of Works). By-law no. 366 (12 Nov. 1900) first defined building standards and assigned the Building Inspector to examine building plans and issue building permits according to the standards. Building permit records were kept by the Building Inspector from at least January 1901. The earliest building standards adjudication was carried out directly by City Council (which had that authority from the Vancouver Incorporation Act, see Council minutes for procedural details), then by the Building Inspector (an autonomous unit until 1967), then by the Permits and Licenses Department as a division (variously named Building Inspection, Inspection and Enforcement, Permits and Inspection, etc.).
(5) Business licensing and taxation. These functions enforce or enable the License By-law, the Vehicle Licensing By-law, the Vehicle for Hire By-law, the Business Tax By-law, etc. The earliest of many business licensing by-laws passed by City Council related to liquor licenses (no. 5, 1886) and cabs and drays, etc. (no. 8, 1886). Carried out originally by City Council (in conjunction with the City Clerk and City Solicitor) , then by the Fire, Health and License Inspector's Office (by 1891), and eventually by the License and Business Tax Office of the Finance Department until 1967, when it transferred, in tact, to the Permits and Licenses Department. In 1984 the business tax was repealed, but licensing continued.
(6) City owned buildings construction and maintenance. This function relates to the control and coordination of the consultants and contractors hired for these purposes. Carried out by the Building Department until 1967, by the Permits and Licenses Department until 1978 (then by the newly created Civic Buildings Department).
(7) Electrical inspection. Has enforced the Electrical By-law and the Fire By-law (including fire alarms, emergency lighting, etc.). Carried out by a unit of the Electrical Department until taken over by the Permits and Licenses Department in 1967.
(8) Gas inspection. This function relates to the construction of gas lines according to regulations. Carried out by the Building Department until 1967, then by the Permits and Licenses Department.
(9) Industrial waste inspection. Has enforced aspects of the Plumbing By-law, ensuring that industrial waste is safely discharged into the sewer systems.
(10) Plumbing inspection. Carried out by the Building Department until 1967, then by the Permits and Licenses Department.
(11) Properties inspection. Has enforced the Zoning and Development By-law, the Standards of Maintenance By-law, the Untidy Premises By-law, and part of the Sign By-law.
Predecessors of the Permits and Licenses Department are: the Engineering Department, 1886-1967; the Building Inspector's Office (i.e. the Building Department), 1900-1967; the Electrical Department (electrical inspection only), ca. 1920-1967); and the License and Business Tax Office of the Finance Department, ca. 1890-1967.
From first appointment in 1900 until the Building Department's amalgamation with the Permits and Licenses Department in 1967 the Building Inspector reported to the responsible City Council Committee (names varied, e.g. Building and Town Planning Committee, etc.). The other primary forerunner of the Permits and Licenses Department, the License and Business Tax Office (originally the Fire, Health and License Inspector's Office), also reported to the responsible City Council Committee (the Police Committee in the 1890s), then was a part of the financial function, reporting to the City Comptroller from ca. 1912-1964, who was renamed the Director of Finance in 1967. The Permits and Licenses Department reported to the Board of Administration 1967-1974, and subsequently to the Board's replacement, the Office of the Ciy Manager, 1974-1995. In 1995 the Permits and Licenses Department became a unit of the larger service group, Community Services, so reported to the General Manager of Community Services.
The internal organization of the Permits and Licenses Department has varied considerably, both in terms of the number and types of divisions, and the divisional alignments of some of the branches. The primary functional units which have existed from the early period are: building permits and inspection, and other types of inspection; and business license and business tax administration. In 1980, about 13 years after the two primary functional units become the core of the Permits and Licenses Department, the following internal organization is given in the City's organization chart: the Permits and Inspections Division (including Permits and Plan Checking, Building Inspection, Plumbing Inspection, Electrical Inspection, and Industrial Waste Inspection); the Property Use Division (consisting of Property Use Inspection); the License and Business Tax Division (including License and Business Tax, City Pound, an Vehicles for Hire Inspection); and the Administrative Service Division (including Correspondence, Reception, Data Resource, and Steno Pool).
The name of the Permits and Licenses Department has not changed since 1967.
The following individuals have served as director of the Permits and Licenses Department: H. L. Bryson (1967-1978); Roger Hebert (1979-1992); Jack Perri (1993- ).
For further information on the origins of the functions of the department consult City Council minutes (series 31) and the corresponding early indexes. The City Clerk kept City Council supporting files on all matters before Council; series 20 contains "Building Inspector" files from 1910, and "License Inspector" files from 1891.