Top Five Things to Know About Philly Permits in 2019

Happy New Year!  Permit Philly hopes everyone has recovered from the Mummer apocalypse and a month of eggnog.  Since we have a brand-new year on our hands, I thought it would be a good idea to review what’s changed in Philadelphia permits over the last year, and explain how the changes affect you.  So here are the top five things to know about Philly permits in 2019.

1.  There’s a New Building Code

On October 1 of 2018, Philly adopted new building codes.  It was kind of a big deal!

While that change officially happened last year, we’ve been in a transition period where older permit applications could be reviewed under the old code requirements.  However, starting on April 1, all Philly permits in 2019 will be issued under the new building codes – the 2018 International Building Code for commercial buildings, and the 2015 International Building Code (with some modifications) for residential buildings.

Now, most property owners don’t need to bother about learning the minutiae of the code – that’s for the architects and engineers.  And the adoption of these codes doesn’t change the permitting process.  However, any developers (or aspiring developers) should be certain they know what’s required for new projects – using old cost estimates of insulation (for example) might lead you astray.

2. You’ll Need a Utility Plan

In 2018, the Philadelphia Water Department began requiring utility plans for new construction.  They also changed their review processes – they accept plans online (which is awesome) but take two weeks to review them (which is terrible).  This process will be in effect for all Philly permits in 2019 that authorize new construction or that require other Water Department review – and be careful of those other reviews, because those processes can be even more complex.

The short story: find a good surveyor and befriend them.

3. Expect an RFI

When Licenses and Inspections wants to see more information about a project, they issue an RFI – a “request for information.”  Permit Philly prides itself on avoiding unnecessary RFIs – the goal is to always have all your documentation in order the first time.

However, in 2018, even when all the documents were correctly submitted and formatted for a project, L&I frequently asked the architect or engineer responsible for extra information.  More frequently, it seems, than in 2017 or 2016.

This is likely for two reasons:  First, L&I is really sticking to the book these days.  The days of L&I taking bribes and shooting from the hip are over.  This is not to say L&I is perfect or easy to navigate – you wouldn’t need Permit Philly if it was – just that they’re being very meticulous before issuing permits.

Second, L&I is very busy and understaffed.  I can’t prove it, but my guess is that the examiners find reasons to delay final review of an application if they’re swamped with projects.  So in 2019, remember this famous nursery rhyme:  If there’s a dot missing from an i, you’ll get an RFI.  Adjust your timetable accordingly.

4. There’s a New (Better) Way to Contact L&I

In 2018, L&I literally disconnected its phone.  If you try to call L&I (using the phone number that’s still on their website), you will get a message telling you to try 311 instead.

But there’s hope!  L&I, using the latest in decade-old tech, has launched an online form for permitting questions.  And what’s even better than the nostalgia of JotForm is the fact that somebody from L&I will answer your submitted question within 24 hours!  Really – you no longer have to just leave a voicemail and pray!  For any of your questions about Philly permits in 2019, use the form!

5. New Parking Minimums are (Probably) on the Way

Last Spring, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell reintroduced a 2016 bill that would require parking spaces for certain types of residential construction, where there’s currently none required.  The bill would also increase some parking space requirements for types of construction that already require parking spaces.

This provoked some pretty heated debate in our fair city between advocates of parking and advocates of a dense, pedestrian-friendly city with fewer cars.  To the untrained eye, it looks like the advocates of urban density are winning:  The bill hasn’t been passed, and the latest version of the bill is much less sweeping that Blackwell’s original proposal.

But the bill hasn’t been voted down, either: it’s still idling in committee, and is likely to emerge in 2019.  There will probably be some more drama in the process, but some version of this legislation seems imminent.  If we do get a new parking law, Permit Philly will break it down for you right here.

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