Philadelphia Code Violation

Contractors fear them.  Old real estate brokers shiver at their mention.  Property owners try to pretend they don’t exist, though those property owners also feel a chill in their spines.  In much the same way Old Nan warned Bran of the White Walkers, experienced Philadelphia developers and homeowners warn newcomers of that greatest of terrors:  a Philadelphia Code violation.

When Philly’s Department of Licenses and Inspections finds a property illegally used or under unlawful construction – think building a house without a permit, or opening a restaurant without a food license – L&I issues a “notice of violation and order.”  This notice should, according to the Code, be a written document which tells the owner of the property the nature of the Philadelphia Code violation, what can be done to address the violation, and how long the owner has to fix the problem.

These things are terrifying: if L&I decides that the owner isn’t complying with the Philadelphia Code violation notice, L&I can shut down operations at the property.  It can also take the owner or operator responsible to court to force them to address the problem or shut down the project.  And to be clear, this includes businesses that are already up and running: the Philadelphia Code says specifically that “the premises shall be vacated of all employees, patrons and occupants” once a Cease Operations Order is in effect.

If you want to argue your case in court, or parse exactly what counts as a violation, you will need a lawyer – and Permit Philly is happy to recommend some!  But if you want to just comply with the City’s order and get it over with, here’s how to make sense of a Philadelphia Code violation on your property – and the steps to clear it up.

Philadelphia Code Violations: (Mostly) Trust the Process

First, it’s useful to understand how this whole violation process is supposed to work, how it used to work, and how it actually works today.

How it’s Supposed to Work

When an L&I inspector sees a problem with your property – an illegal use of the property or some illegal construction – they can issue that violation notice.  They are supposed to give you a written order outlining the problem they see, and give you up to 35 days to fix it.

If the problem they see is dangerous – say, your roof deck is about to cave into your neighbor’s house – they can shut down your project on the spot, without a written order.  In less dangerous cases, if you don’t fix the problem, the inspector can issue a Stop Work Order (for construction) or a Cease Operations Order (for a business).  The way to fix the problem is always to either get a permit or license allowing you to do what you want with the property, or get a permit allowing you to change the structure to make it safe.

How it Used to Work

Licenses and Inspections was created in 1951, and for most of its history, it has been a great, great place for wanton bribery.  When inspectors came calling, the way to clear the violation was to pay them some cold hard cash in exchange for a cleared case.  If necessary, crooked inspectors could falsify paperwork to make it all look Kosher.  You might think this stopped in 2013, with the deadly collapse of an entire building on Market Street, but this behavior wasn’t really reformed until the last commissioner of L&I, Carlton Williams, was removed from his job – after spending $15,000 on fake articles proclaiming L&I’s genius.  In late 2015, Dave Perri got on the job, and wouldn’t you know it – bribes have largely disappeared (I mean, you hear stories, but Permit Philly has never run into any of this behavior).  L&I more or less follows its own rules at present.

(Don’t cry for Williams – he is currently running your Philly Streets Department.)

How it Works Today

Today, the Philadelphia code violation process is almost by the book, with some minor exceptions.

First, inspectors do not like paperwork, and they may skirt some of the notice rules – you will almost always get a hard paper copy of the violation notice, but sometimes they’ll just sort of chat with the owner or operator and tell them to change something on the spot.  (This is usually for license renewals – they’ll send some kind of hard copy to you for construction work in just about every case, and if they don’t, demand one for your reference!)

Second, you almost always have more – a lot more – than 35 days to fix the problem, if the problem isn’t imminently dangerous.  You’ll get a notice, then a second warning, and then a final warning before the City tells you that you’re due in court.  So just because you receive a notice of a Philadelphia Code violation, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed – you have plenty of time to get a new permit.

The exception are those imminently dangerous cases – when L&I tells you that your building is about to fall down, the timeline compresses.  Depending on how dangerous your structure is to other surrounding structures, the City might require you to get a permit just about immediately.  So pay close attention to the nature of your violation notice!

Now, here’s the step-by-step guide to clearing your Philadelphia Code violation:

Step One: Get All the Information

Sometimes the inspector will tell you that you will receive a violation before you actually receive a written violation notice, and sometimes you’ll just open your mail to find the violation notice.  Either way, make sure you save a copy of the violation notice.  It will tell you why you are being cited for a Philadelphia Code violation, and which permits will fix it (more on that in a second).

The notice will also give you the name and contact information for your inspector – the person who issued the violation notice in the first place.  Contact this person!  The inspector will work with you to take care of the problem, and explain why you are being cited and how things can be squared with the City.  Now, your inspector might not like being called all the time, or they might prefer emails to phone calls.  But once you figure out your inspector’s preferences, they will help you navigate your predicament.

Inspectors work out of one of several district offices.  The time to contact them is between 8:30am and 9:30am – after this, they’re usually in the field inspecting, and are super unlikely to respond to you.  (Also cut out a block at 8:30am if you want to go to a district office in person for any reason.)

Step Two: Figure Out What Permits or Licenses Will Fix the Violation

The inspector will clarify exactly which permit or license will fix your violation – the violation notice should also do this, but sometimes the notices aren’t super clear.  Ask the inspector exactly what they are looking for, and why – you want to word your permit application exactly right to avoid headaches later.

Step Three: Get Your New Permit or License!

Once you know what you’re aiming at, prepare the necessary documents for your zoning permit or building permit or food license or whatever other kind of application.  File them with Licenses and Inspections – marking on the forms that the applications are in response to a violation – and wait for the review period to elapse.

Stay in touch with the inspector and the plans examiner in this process (examiners are the people in the bowels of L&I who actually review construction documents and issue permits).   Inspectors argue all the time with plans examiners.  For example, an examiner might issue a permit to make a prior demolition legal – this doesn’t mean the new building has to be destroyed, but rather that the demolition that already happened will be made legal, if an inspection finds that the new building is safe.  In this case, the inspector might roll up to the property thinking they’re inspecting a demolition and demand, “Why is this building still here?”

Again: talk with your inspector early to make sure they know what to expect when they’re inspecting.

Dangerous Cases

As I noted before, some violations are marked as a “dangerous case.”  Dangerous cases are turned around in a matter of days, at no extra charge – but work must also start sooner on these cases than regular cases.  Dangerous cases are usually structural problems or health code violations.  (Make sure your restaurant is ready for an inspection at all times!)  Dangerous case violations are also very specific – you might get a violation for one crack in one wall.

Remember: dangerous cases shut down all other work on your property.  If you get a dangerous case violation, you can’t apply for any permits or legally do any other work to the property until after you’ve cleared the dangerous case.

Regular Violations

Cases that are not dangerous will get more leash – you’ll almost always have more time to respond to the initial notice of violation, and more time to fix the problem.  However, the permit process will take longer, as the City is under no obligation to speed up their work – you have to fix your problem, but it’s not so dangerous that it’s a public concern.  This can be an issue when you’re working on unpermitted construction – it’s not necessarily dangerous, but the City might stop the construction until you get a permit, costing you a month or more on the project.

Step Four:  Pay Your Fine

Yep, it’s not that easy.  The City will assess fines, depending on the nature of the violation, that will be added to your permit or license fee.  So have your checkbook handy!

How to Avoid a Philadelphia Code Violation

If you’d like to avoid a Philadelphia Code violation entirely – a Cease Operations Order or a Stop Work Order costing thousands of dollars in lost time, or hundreds (thousands?) more in fines – then try this one weird trick:

Don’t do something illegal.

I know.  Groundbreaking.  Don’t hire unlicensed contractors to do your work.  Don’t build a building without a permit.  Don’t gut a house without the (super easy!) permit required for home renovation.  Don’t open a restaurant without a food license.

And if the maze of permits in Philly is too dense, just call Permit Philly.  We’ll make sure you have all the permits you need to open your business or build your structure.  And if you already have a violation, we’ll clear it up for you.

22 Replies to “Philadelphia Code Violation”

  1. I have a work permit issued by the PHILADELPHIA L& I department to correct the violations on my property. I have completed several items that was listed as violations. My question, can another agency override my permit and take me to court while I am still working within my one year permit issued by L & I? My taxes are paid in full every year. I do not owe the city for anything

    1. Hi Melvin,

      The inspector assigned to your case has to confirm that you’ve done all the work to clear the violation. If the violation requires a permit, then you have to get a permit to clear the violation.

      If you already have a permit to clear up the violation, then I don’t know why (or how) any other City of Philadelphia agency would take you to court for that violation — L&I should be the only department concerned. However, if a different agency is giving you trouble, I would talk to that agency directly. We deal with L&I — they’re the ones who issue the permits — so I can’t give you advice outside of their rules.

  2. My dad bought a house and transferred the deed to my name. I live out of state and have never seen the condition of the house. My dad sent me a letter (from the city) stating that I missed a civil court date and have been fined $20,000 for a code violation.

    Because I do not live in the state, I never received any letters/notices about the condition of the house. I know I have to hire a lawyer and file an appeal, but I’m not certain that the odds are in my favor.

  3. I bought a house and 6 months later I received bill for code violations dated for work done months before I ever owned the house. Its ridiculous. And now I have been waiting for an initial appeal hearing. Why am I responsible for paying the bill and how long until I get a hearing?

    1. Hi Tuan,

      First, to be clear, this site is for a permit consulting service — this is not the site for the City of Philadelphia. So I don’t know what kind of hearing you are getting, or what kind of code violation.

      It’s common to find that previous work on a house was finished without a permit. Permit Philly can help you clear up that confusion, but we do so by filing the forms you need to comply with the violation notice — we don’t have the power to cancel the violation.

      If you’re interested in having us take a closer look at your problem, please email! Otherwise, you should call the Licenses and Inspections office that issued the violation (their number will be on the violation notice).

  4. Hello I am currently getting work done by unlicensed contractors and a inspector came and gave me a violation I am in the process of getting the permit but we are still getting work done can I get in any more trouble say if L&I wants to come back out ?

    1. You should always do exactly what L&I asks, or you could definitely get in more trouble! I can’t see your specific violation notice, but my guess is that you should stop work until you have the permit, unless the inspector has allowed you to keep working while the permit is in process.

  5. What if I already replaced wiring, built a shower in the basement (and had to cut the slab to put the trap in, and replaced my home wiring and installed LED lights, and remodelled my other bathroom and my kitchen…and I have done all to current codes….without any permits.
    Let’s say I wanted to “legalize it”. Does L&I inspect electric/plumbing? How can I possibly et electric or plumbing permit, if there is nothing for the electrician or plumber to do? Does L&I inspect documented VIDEO evidence for everything done, or would they make me rip it all off. If they asked me to “get an electrical and plumbing permit for work already done – what do I tell prospective electricians and plumbers when I get quotes, and what should I expect?

    1. We can’t tell you what quotes to expect from plumbers or electricians for this work, but we can say that you would need inspections, and that for the electrical work especially you would have to cut open the walls for inspection. Electrical permits are inspected by third-party inspections agencies (see the list here). Amy other inspections would be handled by the City of Philadelphia. An inspector on site might look at a video, but that won’t take the place of physical inspection of the property.

  6. i got a violation notice and order to correct,the problems have all been fixed.The electrician has filled out the certification forms for the apartments.The instructions said to upload the results.I am in Philadelphia,How do i do this? I am not computer savy.

    1. Depending on who obtained/applied for the necessary permits for this project, they would need to upload those document through their L&I account with the city. You can also contact the L&I department for more information.

  7. I live in the Point Breeze area in South Philadelphia, my parents owned the property, Both are Deceased by 2002, finally got property in my name. Received a Violation in 2019 of December, Covid was going on in 2020 and 2021, didn’t hear from L&I until July of 2022. We received a notice in July 2022 to appear in court. Violation was for our side back wall in the back of our home, we had a small tree on the top edge of the roof, Inspector said fix it, so my Husband removed the tree and had to remove some bricks to remove roots, replaced bricks around 20, Inpector came and said good job, then our free Lawyer called and said we need an Engineer report, which cost $900, We gathered up the money for the Engineer, now waiting for my Free Lawyer to schedule one to come out, they are trying to Demolish our home, if no Engineer report, we’ve fixed the inside of our home and now this, we were still fixing up the inside, still needs more work, we’ve been in this property for 54 years, don’t have enough for a contractor, need more time to save for that. Go back to court around June 6. Don’t have anywhere else to live, please reply! My email is

  8. Good afternoon,

    I want to make sure I am clear. I recieved a violation notice a few weeks ago telling me that I need to fix around 9 violations at $300 a pop. I have until March 7, 2024 to fix them. Should I start applying for a permit to fix the violations or do I just fix them myself without a permit? Do I need to have a license to fix the violations myself? Some violation range from: 1. fix rain spout so it can run into the ground drain in the back yard, 2. cover porch ceiling by covering with plywood and so the inside of house is not showing, 3. remove the board from the outside of the windows and place them inside so the windows can show from the outside. etc. If I am not going to apply for a permit or license just yet, where can I request for an extention on the violations date? Can I apply for an additional 30 days?

    Any help you can provide, I appreciate very much.

    Thank You

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for reaching out to Permit Philly!

      The basic requirement to clear a violation is to get the permits listed in the violation notice. If you see a violation in the notice that doesn’t ask you to get a permit, you can fix that one up yourself. Whether or not you need a license depends on the scope of work and whether you live at the property under violation. As for extensions, they don’t have a formal process for that: wherever permits are required, they want you to obtain them as quickly as possible.

      If you think you need permits and you’d like us to get them, give us a call or email! We’re at and (267)744-4200.

  9. L&I stated I have a Dangerous situation in my home. They gave me 35 days and after that they say it will cost me $2000 dollars a day. I s this accurate. I’m a Senior on a fixed income.

    1. Hi Larry,

      I’m sorry to hear about your trouble! The good news is that while L&I can legally assess big fines, they almost never do if you take care of the problem quickly. If, for example, you solve the problem with the house in 60 days instead of 35, they are just about certain double the permit fees for your project and otherwise leave you alone.

      Obviously, the best way to deal with the issue and avoid any kind of fine is to fix it as soon as possible. If you’re interested in using us to file the required permits, you can email us at for a quote!

  10. good day. We have a property, where code violations were placed: electrical, plumbing, HVAC and general contracting. We have since cleared these violations, by employing a consulting agency.

    There is still a code violatios/penalties session on Wednesday April 10th. 2024 – 2 days from now where I believe only a lawyer can have access to the city’s solicitor as all of us discuss the removal or possible lowering of these amounts. ty

    1. Hi Konstantinos,

      You may be in the wrong place: This website is also for a consulting agency. We can obtain approvals from the City of Philadelphia on your behalf, but we aren’t a government agency.

      We can tell you that violations are cleared by getting permits or licenses named in the violation notice, and by paying any required fees. Your situation sounds more like you obtained some permits, but are still working out the fee payments with the City: in that case, the violations may not yet be cleared from the system. Make sure your consulting agency knows exactly where you are in the process.

      Good luck! If you need any more help on this project or a future one, feel free to give us an email at or to just call our office at (267)744-4200. For official Philly resources, head over to

  11. Hi, I have commercial building in Philly the tenant needs to get an auto repair and fuel license according to the violation I received. He is not getting it. What will the city do to me?

    1. Hi Colleen,

      Sorry to hear that! I can’t say exactly what action the City of Philadelphia will take in this case, but generally they issue three notices of violation. After that, they take the business under violation to court. If the business has legal representation and applies for the correct license, the City might push off the court process or work out a payment plan with the business. The City will skip court entirely if the tenant obtains the license before the due date listed on the final violation notice.

      Either way, your tenant definitely needs to get the required license or the City will eventually force him to shut down.

      Feel free to call us at (267)744-4200 with any more questions, or simply email!

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