Philadelphia Permits and Coronavirus: The Basics

NOTE: This post was written on Tuesday, March 17th before Governor Tom Wolf shut down all construction in Pennsylvania on March 19th, and before construction was allowed to resume in May 2020. If you’re looking for the current state of the COVID-19 shutdown in Philly, as it relates to permits and construction, please see this article.

Hey Philly! Quite a week we’re having. On Friday, March 12th, the City’s permit center closed for the installation of a new software system. On Monday, March 16th, the City shut down all of its own non-essential functions and shuttered non-essential businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The permit center in the Municipal Services Building and the district offices are closed to the public till at least the 27th. Despite all this, remote work and construction are both exempted from this order, [UPDATE: this order was issued before the statewide shutdown of construction sites] so we can still process Philadelphia permits during coronavirus!

It so happens that just this week, the City launched an online portal for permit submissions. Currently, they are scrambling to create a system to transfer existing paper applications to online review for those who request it (so if you have a case with Permit Philly, we’ll do that!). [UPDATE: L&I, ended up walking that back. For revisions to existing paper applications, they now expect hard copies to be mailed to the Municipal Services Building. See more updates on the situation here.] When this is in place, we should have full, remote access to our Philadelphia permits amid coronavirus. They were supposed to have the system in place at the time of this writing (March 18th), but it’s proving a little tricky. Still, we should shortly have access existing permits – and the ability to draft new applications! – remotely. [UPDATE: again, see here for a note on the progress made in the online system.]

An important note here: while we can still get your permits, it’s very important that you maintain proper safety precautions on job sites [even when they are open again!]. No workers should be within six feet of each other, and no workers with even typical cold or flu symptoms should be working. We’ll get your Philadelphia permits, but coronavirus is still out there on site – prepare accordingly once you have your paperwork in order! (And if you have to push back construction a bit, we’ll be here on the other side.)

Now, as for appeals: they’re closed till March 27th — but the way things are going, they could be closed longer. [UPDATE: All other City offices are closed indefinitely, so while we haven’t gotten clear word about appeals as of early April, you can safely assume appeals are also closed indefinitely.] We really don’t know exactly when ZBA hearings and BBS hearings will come back online. We can process applications that involve a hearing or variance, but we can’t guarantee exactly when they’ll be heard.

Beyond that, just be prepared for slow review of all Philly permits – because coronavirus, but also because remote work and the installation of a new system means the good people of L&I have a lot of work to do in terrible, logistically awful circumstances. We’re always happy to point out when their policies don’t make much sense, but in this time, we could all cut L&I a little slack when the reviews are a bit behind.

And if you’re a builder, contractor, or just a homeowner looking to put on a new deck, focus on the good news amid the chaos: Philadelphia permits are, for now, immune to coronavirus.

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