How Much Does a Philadelphia Permit Cost?

How Much Does a Philadelphia Permit Cost

One of the weirdest parts of this job is that I can’t give a simple answer to one of the questions everyone asks: How much does a Philadelphia permit cost?

Now, it stands to reason that the City of Philadelphia would charge different fees for different permits – you wouldn’t want a plumbing permit in a rowhome to cost the same as the electrical permit for one of the Comcast towers. So you might think that there are different permit fees for each zoning classification: one for industrial warehouses, and another for residential projects.

This would be great!

“How much does a Philadelphia permit cost?” you would ask.

And I would say, “What kind of building is it?”

And you’d say, “Commercial! Ten stories.”

And I’d say, “I know exactly the cost!”

But I don’t, because that is not how Licenses and Inspections determines cost. Let’s break down how they do charge, so you can get a better idea of how much a Philadelphia permit costs.

Part 1: Application Fees

First, let’s talk about the cost up front: you have to pay just to apply for a permit in the City of Brotherly Surcharges. To be fair, you have to pay to apply for a permit in many, many American towns. But that doesn’t make it fun.

What you’re paying for, in theory, is the time it takes the City plans examiners to… you know, examine your plans. Each time an examiner gets a permit application, they have to spend a few hours looking over the blueprints to make sure the project is up to code – in Philly’s case, that means the relevant building codes and the City’s Zoning Code (see here to learn which is which).

If you don’t have architectural plans to submit for review, then congratulations! You are applying for an EZ permit! You don’t need to pay an application fee.

For everyone else, it’s…

  • $25 for one- or two-family homes (meaning, how they’re used; not which zoning district they’re in)
  • $100 for all other applications – that’s a four-week review, plus another four if the examiner wants you to revise your plans
  • $420 for a two-week zoning review with a one-week revision turnaroud
  • $540 for a two-week building review with a one-week revision turnaroud

Now, before the permit is approved, you might have to get special approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the Board of Building Standards. In that case, there are some extra fees:

Part 1a: Appeal Fees

  • $125 for a ZBA appeal for a one- or two-family home
  • $300 for all other ZBA appeals
  • $50 for a BBS appeal for an existing one- or two-family home
  • $200 for everything else up to 30,000 square feet or five stories
  • $600 for all buildings larger than 30,000 square feet or five stories

Simple and intuitive, right? Very easy to memorize.

Okay, here comes the complicated part:

Part 2: Permit Fees

Use Registration

This one’s easy! It’s $150. that’s it! Case closed.

Zoning Permit

Getting trickier here. It depends on what you want to actually do with the property. There are a lot of different fees for a lot of different projects, but the basics (from the City’s website) are here:

  • New construction of one- or two-family home (see the pattern here?): $150
  • New construction of all other buildings: $500
  • Zoning revisions to lots containing existing one- or two-family dwelling: $40
  • This would be something like adding a roof deck or creating an addition
  • Zoning revisions to all other parcels less than 30,000 sq. ft.: $200
  • Zoning revisions to all parcels greater than 30,000 sq. ft.: $500
  • Complete demolition: $50

Building Permits

Now we’re in the graduate-level fees. The C-suite of fees. The load-bearing members of the Philly permit and license fee structure. (Too much?)

L&I has a pretty intense formula to calculate the cost of your building permit. The formula considers, once again, what you might actually do with the building, and also considers the use – as you’ve probably learned by now, there are different fees for one- and two-family homes than for every other kind of building.

However – and this is important – the main factor in determining the cost of your building permit is square footage. Not the square footage of the lot, or even of the building – the square footage of the area of work.

For example, if you are building in a lot with 4,000 square feet, and are renovating a four-story building with a basement that takes up 3,000 square feet of lot space, then you have an area of work of 15,000 square feet – 3,000 square feet for each story and the basement. (Congrats! Sounds like a solid project.) That’s the number that will be used to calculate your building permit: 15,000 square feet.

This isn’t unique to Philly! Many municipalities base the cost off of some factor specific to each project. It can’t just be about building size: you might be working on three water-damaged rooms of a giant hotel. A big city can’t simply have a flat-rate, hotel-sized permit fee. It has to consider the scale of the project.

The difference with Philly is that the surrounding towns calculate their permit fees based on the cost of work. Philly, again, bases its building permit fees on the area of work. Contractors tell me all the time that the City is charging them based on the cost of their contract, but it’s not so – unless you specifically ask for the value of the contract to determine the permit fee, the City defaults to calculating based on the area of work. (Hey look, here it is in writing!) If you ask, the City will charge you 2% of the contract fee. However, even if you do specifically ask to be charged that 2% of the contract, you must provide a signed copy of the contract – you can’t just use the estimated cost of work.

The reason Philly doesn’t base its permit fees on estimated construction costs is pretty simple: people lie.

Oh, how they lie! I’ve had contractors and clients tell me that a project costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; and then, when I tell them how that expensive project will require an engineer’s stamp on their plans, they say: “Did you hear $300,000? I meant fifteen bucks.” After telling me (over and over) that the permit fee is based on the cost of work, clients will tell me, “Just put something low on there.”

As a rule, I try super hard not to lie in writing, in ink, next to my signature. Give me a real estimate, please! It won’t affect the permit fee unless you want it to. Promise.

With all that said, the specific building permit fees are difficult to summarize, so you should just check them out for yourself right here.

From the Top: How Much Does a Philadelphia Permit Cost?

There are two sets of fees to pay for a permit in Philly: Application fees, and fees for the permit itself.

The application fee depends on what type of permit you’re applying for, whether or not you want to pay for a speedy review, and whether or not you have to file an appeal for zoning or building concerns.

After the application (and maybe an appeal), your permit fee depends on the nature of the project, the type of permit, and – if it’s a building permit – the square footage of the area of work. If you really want to have the permit fee based on the cost of work, you can ask for that and submit a signed contract.

So, how much does a Philadelphia permit cost? Check the charts.

Permit Philly is on the Radio! (Or a Podcast. Whatever.)

Philadelphia Permitting on the Radio

Last month, Eleena de Lisser invited me (Brett) on her show – the Jumpstart Philly Real Estate Radio Show – to talk permits! Permit heads and paperwork junkies, I see you: this is everything you ever wanted to know about Philadelphia permitting, Licenses and Inspections, permit violations, and the exact turning radius allowed for a vehicle crossing a curb cut in a residential lot!

(It didn’t get that technical.)

Eleena asked me about Permit Philly – how it started, how I started working in permits despite a background in music, and what services Permit Philly provides to those sailing the dark, repetitive waters of Philadelphia permitting. We talked a little about the permitting process, and touched on building permits, changes to Philadelphia’s building codes earlier this year, zoning permits, and variances.

Eleena is a great host, and you should check out her show! Don’t worry: it comes in the form of a podcast. She has a million interesting guests, and also me! Give the episode a listen, then read more about Philadelphia permitting in the Permit Philly blog – and when you’re sick of that, listen to some more of the Jumpstart Philly Real Estate Radio Show, or just check out Jumpstart Germantown itself!

Find our episode right here, or on Apple Podcasts or Google Music.

Four Things to Know About the Building Code Changes in Philly

If you hang out with developers and architects in Philly, you’ll probably pick up their vibe these days: severe stress.  Why?  Because on April 1st, we get a slew of official changes to the Philadelphia building codes.  Yep, the city of Philadelphia will switch over to the 2018 International Building Code for non-residential construction, and the 2015 International Residential Code for residential construction.  All new zoning permit and building permit applications will be reviewed under the standards of the 2018 IBC and 2015 IRC.  This is probably going to be a mess: plans drawn up under the previous code regime are still under review, and architects and developers may have drafted plans for work under the old codes – only to find that, as of April 1, those plans aren’t up to date.

But it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe!  Prepare now for the changes to the Philadelphia building codes, and it’ll go off without a hitch.  These are the four things you need to know about the upcoming changes to the building code.  (Exclamation points for appropriate dramatic effect.)

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Top Five Things to Know About Philly Permits in 2019

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.

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EZ Sign Permit

The Reach Lofts sign in Fishtown — an example of a sign that could be permitted by an EZ Sign Permit.

The City of Philadelphia can be a cruel mistress.  When filing permits, it’s common to be told that the thing you’ve done 176 times needs to be laid out a different way the 177th time – but then, on the 178th time, to go back to the regular way.  Sometimes, the way the application process works depends on which staffer is on lunch.  This is life on the mean streets of 1401 JFK Boulevard.

But every now and again, the City smiles upon us all, and cuts away some of its own red tape.  It has recently cut some tape around its troubled sign permits by creating what we in the permit game have previously only dreamt of: EZ sign permits.

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Philadelphia Code Violation

This scaffolding is a Philadelphia code violation without the proper permits.

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.

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Top Five Things Realtors Should Know About Philly Permits

Top five things realtors should know about Philly permits

Realtors ask me a lot of questions about permits.  They want to know what they’re allowed to do with a property in Philly, how to get a legal construction project off the ground, and how to get rental licenses (so many rental licenses).  Some of these questions are specific to one project.  But some apply to almost any property in the City of Philadelphia.  I’ve culled the most common questions and areas of interest to give you the top five things every realtor should know about Philly permits.

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Philadelphia EZ Permits

Philadelphia EZ Permits can be used to renovate single-family homes like these

NOTE: Since this post was originally published, Licenses and Inspections has updated the requirements for the Philadelphia EZ Permit.  Now, owners of single-family homes applying for EZ permits for work on those homes need to provide a photo ID with the address of the home printed on the ID.

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.

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Philadelphia Building Permit Checklist

This development could have used a Philadelphia building permit checklist

The most common question I get here at Permit Philly is, “What permits do I need to build this?”  As documented in our blog, Philadelphia has a dense administrative system that might require you to get a lot of permits.  “It depends on the project,” is the answer I usually give.  But people don’t just want to know the specific permit they need: they want a conceptual picture of the permitting system.  A Philadelphia building permit checklist.

And wouldn’t you know it: there is a Philadelphia building permit checklist, made by the City itself.  You can find it right here.

But before you dive into it, let’s give you a companion piece: an overhead view of the permitting maze in Philly.

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