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The Digitalization of Building Permitting Process in the Upcoming Urban Planning Code and the Challenges in Implementation

The Digitalization of Building Permitting Process in the Upcoming Urban Planning Code and the Challenges in Implementation

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The Urban Planning, Urbanism, and Construction Code (“Urban Planning Code”) is a complex law project that aims to consolidate, reform, and standardize legislation in the construction sector. The Urban Planning Code draft bill is currently under parliamentary debate. Among the proposed reforms are the digitalization and simplification of the building permitting process.

The draft bill proposes the establishment of a Unique Digital Desk (in Romanian, “Ghișeul Unic”), an online interface between the applicant, on one hand, and the public authorities and/or reviewing entities involved in the building permitting process (public or private), on the other hand.

What will the building permitting process look like?

The applicant will submit the request for issuing the planning certificate, approvals/agreements, or building permit online through the Unique Digital Desk platform, and will pay the corresponding fee by wire transfer, through the National Electronic System for Online Payment of Taxes and Duties (the Romanian abbreviation, “SNEP”). After payment, the Unique Digital Desk will generate a registration number for the request, which will be sent to the applicant via email.

The public authority will review the information provided by the applicant and, if no further details are required, will issue the requested document in digital format, signed with a qualified or advanced electronic signature. The requested document will be transmitted to the applicant through the Unique Digital Desk, with prior notification via email.

In the case of approving entities, since not all are public authorities but may be private or public companies (i.e., utility network owners), the requests are processed and directed by the local public authorities through the Secretariate of the Unified Approval Commission (in Romanian, “Comisia pentru Acord Unic”, and the Romanian abbreviation, “CAU”). When all the endorsements requested in the Planning Certificate are transmitted by the approvers to CAU, it issues the Unified Approval (in Romanian, “Acord Unic”) as confirmation of the completion of the approval process and notifies the applicant regarding the issuance and uploading of the Unified Approval.

Shortcomings of the permitting process

The digitalization process of obtaining building permits is essential in a technology era, but it comes with a set of challenges:

Limited accessibility for certain categories of applicants: As the digitalization process progresses – aiming for the exclusive use of electronic signatures for authentication and validation of requests – some applicants may face difficulties in using or accessing the online platforms required for submitting documentation. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate physical document submissions.

Additional costs: Although digitalization aims to streamline the building permit process, efficiency does not extend to costs – a new fee is introduced for issuing the unified agreement by the public authority providing CAU Secretariate.

Cybersecurity risks, lack of adequate technological infrastructure, and low staff training levels may be other drawbacks of digitizing the building permit process. For example, during the public debates preceding the adoption of the Code, some stakeholders involved in the authorization process (e.g., representatives of local public authorities and approving entities) expressed serious reservations about the feasibility of CAU and its capacity to act as an intermediary between the applicant and approvers, citing, among other things, the reluctance of some approvers to be part of CAU.

Considering the reform proposals in the Urban Planning Code, it is important for both applicants and the public authorities involved in the building permitting process to make concerted efforts to ensure efficient implementation of digital services in this field, so that digitalization does not remain a utopia.

By Mihai Macovei, Senior Associate, Miruna Pioara, Associate, Albota Law Firm

Albota Law Firm at a Glance

The firm: Albota Law Firm is a boutique law firm set up in May 2014. The firm was founded by Oana Albota. Before this, Oana co-ordinated, as a partner, the real estate practice of PeliFilip, which she joined from NNDKP.

The main area of practice of the law firm is real estate and construction. It has the capabilities to assist clients in all the areas connected to a real estate project: financing, real estate permitting and regulatory, corporate commercial, litigation and arbitration.

Clients choose the firm because they appreciate the clarity of its advice, its focus on results, and the efficiency of its service and its fast reaction time, all at a very fair price.

The small size of the firm is a huge advantage as it eliminates formalism, it ensures the thorough involvement of a specialised partner in every project at the law firm, the close co-ordination of the team of lawyers and it guarantees a proper cost control.

The quality of the legal services derives from the firm’s market knowledge and excellent legal know-how.

During the last 15 years the firm’s lawyers have been involved in transactions standing as landmarks for the real estate market in Romania and in significant international construction arbitrations.

Areas of practice: The firm specialises in construction and real estate.

It is experienced in all construction sectors and in the engineering industry. It is particularly specialised in FIDIC contracts and FIDIC adjudication.

Its expertise in the real estate area includes the structuring of transactions from acquisition of real estate properties in Romania up to the exit point, planning, development, leasing and financing of real estate projects, land use, private-public partnership in real estate projects, agricultural, forestry, energy and infrastructure projects, and regulatory matters.

It offers banking and finance services, advising borrowers, funds and investors from the point of term sheet and structuring stage, through closing, trenching and securitisation, administration and restructuring.

With a solid understanding of the Romanian law and an impressive experience in corporate and commercial, it assists clients, from the very first steps of the incorporation of a company until the exit, with the company’s day-to-day business, providing all legal advice required to help them stay in full compliance with Romanian rules and regulations.

It offers clients comprehensive advice at every stage of a conflict, in all forms of dispute resolution including: litigation, arbitration, mediation, conciliation and adjudication. It provides services covering assistance in complex commercial disputes before law courts and assistance in arbitration and alternative dispute resolution.

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