The City of Philadelphia offers a type of building, electrical, and plumbing permit called an EZ Permit. This is because it’s easier to get than a normal permit (don’t look at me like that – I’m not in charge of naming this stuff). Philadelphia EZ Permits are the source of a lot of hope and a lot of confusion for homeowners and developers. In this post, we’re going to try to clear some of the mud off the Philadelphia EZ Permit.
The EZ Permit Difference
EZ Permits have four major, major advantages over the regular permit application process in the City:
- You do not need to submit architectural plans to apply for these permits
- You can pick them up the same day you apply for them in person, and 3-5 business days after application if you apply online.
- There is no application fee in person, and the $100 application fee online is deducted from the permit fee (so you have to put up $100, but you get it back as a permit fee rebate)
Here at Permit Philly, I can tell you the things clients hate most about the permit process are paying to apply, paying for architectural plans, and waiting on City review. An EZ Permit solves all of those problems – so why, I am frequently asked, don’t we just apply for an EZ Permit?
Permit Philly, for the record also thinks EZ Permits are great – they’re just not allowed for most projects. Most projects require plans – so let’s start there.
Why and When Architectural Plans are Required by the City of Philly
The City requires architectural or engineering plans for applications because…
- The City doesn’t inspect every lot in town before authorizing construction – if I apply to build something, Licenses and Inspections won’t immediately ride out to the building site, sirens blazing. That would cost a lot of money. Instead, they want to see a plan showing what I’m going to build.
- The City wants development to stick to its promises – I can’t say, “I wanna build a house here” and then create a three-story sculpture of a pterodactyl (even though that would be dope)
- The City wants your idea and calculations on record for legal reasons – if I want to build a house, and I have engineer-stamped documents promising that the structure is sound, then it’s on my head (not the City’s) if I change the plans without approval and something bad happens
So: almost all development projects in our fair city will require plans, and will not be eligible for a Philadelphia EZ Permit.
Why and When Plans are not required by the City
And yet there is hope! Some projects do not seek to build anything new, just to remodel existing structures or perform building maintenance. And there are a million and one folks in Philly who are just looking to gut and renovate rowhomes for themselves or to rent out or to sell. When the essential structure of the building isn’t being changed, and the exterior isn’t being demolished and replaces with neon pink spikes (because the City won’t let us be awesome), then there really isn’t much of a need for a full blueprint.
But even without the blueprint, the City still needs to cover itself legally in the event I apply for a permit to renovate a house but instead demolish it and build a super thin skyscraper (I call it the Philly Spire). This is where the Philadelphia EZ Permit comes in: It is a document that binds you, the owner or contractor, to follow the strict limits of the EZ Permit, while authorizing your project without a plan set.
What Projects are Eligible for a Philadelphia EZ Permit?
I’m so glad you asked!
You can find a full list, and all the requirements for each project type, at the main EZ Permits page. But let’s simplify that list a little bit:
There are basically two categories of EZ Permit: those for single-family homes, and those for everything else.
In a single-family home, you can do – essentially – a full home renovation without a single sheet of plans: It’s called an interior alteration permit!
Very important note about the interior alteration permit: You can’t get it unless…
- You live at the house
- You own the house in your own name
- The address of the house is printed on your driver’s license, or other identifying documents
If a company owns the house (or if you don’t live there), you can still pull an EZ permit… but you’ll need a simple set of architectural plans or a sealed engineer’s report (from a PA-licensed engineer).
Under this permit, you cannot…
- Do any work in the basement, unless the basement is already finished up to code
- Add a bedroom in the basement
- Do any work on any structural members of the building, ever, for any reason
Yep: under the interior alterations permit, you can’t add anything to the building. You can get some other EZ permits to add a small deck in the back or maybe a pool. But you get no additions; no demolitions – except of interior partitions that don’t hold weight. Don’t mess too much with the exterior, either: you can switch out a masonry façade under certain circumstances, but you can’t punch a hole clear through the roof and rebuild the whole roof to your liking – the City will want plans for that (also, why would you want to do that?). However, you can replace the roof covering with just the EZ Permit. There are EZ Permits just for home plumbing and electrical work, too.
For all other building types, your options are limited. You can install certain types of siding with an EZ permit, and paint the exterior. You can also repair small chunks of a damaged roof covering, though you can’t re-roof the building. You can replace windows. You can put up a small sign – but be careful, because you almost certainly need a zoning permit for that.
Inside the building, you have a little more leeway: you can reorganize the layout by demolishing non-load-bearing partitions with only an EZ Permit (though if you’re adding dwelling spaces, you’ll need a new use permit and a floorplan). You can put small HVAC systems in tenant spaces (though sadly, this doesn’t apply to commercial kitchens). You can make tweaks to certain fire suppression systems – though you can’t create a full sprinkler system for an entire building without submitting plans.
This makes some sense: somebody doing minor repairs in their own home isn’t really a danger to their neighbors, so long as they don’t mess with the structural integrity of the building. On the other hand, if someone wants to do a massive renovation on a Chestnut Street building in Center City, they’ll probably cause quite a mess, and the City will want a peek at their plans.
Go forth and build renovate!
Armed with this knowledge, you too can begin tearing up the floors in your home in a licensed, responsible manner without asking an architect to map out your living room. Or, if it’s still kind of a hassle for you, you can just have Permit Philly get the permits for you. We really don’t mind it when we don’t have to file plans.