If you operate a restaurant in Philadelphia, you probably know what today is: Streetery Judgment Day in Philly. Starting January 9th, 2023, all the outdoor dining patios, tents, huts, and yurts that flowered in the pandemic must be licensed or weeded from the fabled streets of Philadelphia. While Licenses and Inspections had given restaurants a pretty long leash starting in 2020, they’ve teamed with the Streets Department to yank that chain tight, ruling certain zones illegal for street dining and instituting a fee and permit structure for continued outdoor restaurant extensions. Naturally, restaurateurs (and diners!) are confused about the new Philadelphia outdoor dining rules. But never fear! Permit Philly is here to break down these new curbside seating regulations.Continue reading “Philadelphia Outdoor Dining Rules”
Excavation work in Philadelphia is about to get a lot more difficult. Of course the days are long gone when you could just stick a shovel in the ground and start building a house: the City requires plans, approval from the Water and Streets Departments, and a wheelbarrow of paperwork before it will permit new construction. But a whole other wheelbarrow will be required come January 1st, 2023, when Licenses and Inspections institutes the Philadelphia excavation license (and related excavation permit).
This means that – prepare yourself emotionally, contractors – every GC in Philadelphia needs to get a new Philadelphia excavation contractor license before they’re allowed to dig out any foundation anywhere in town, starting 2023.
You have questions. We have answers!Continue reading “The Philadelphia Excavation License”
It’s been two years since Philly decided to create a license for Airbnb rentals, over a year since we first looked at Philly’s Airbnb rules in this space. The regulations for the Airbnb license are tricky, but with determination and focus we worked them out, then shared our findings with you in an easy-to-use guide – problem solved! Let’s look at the result of our work… Oh. Oh no.
Live look at Airbnb’s enforcement action in Philadelphia
Okay, in the last month the City of Philadelphia has directed Airbnb and Vrbo to stop listing any stays (called short-term rentals) without a Philadelphia license. This is a problem, because in the last two years, I guess only 10-15% of Airbnb/Vrbo operators got a license? People! Come on!
Alright, alright: I understand it’s not that easy to get a short-term rental license in Philly. I also understand that not every property is zoned for short-term rental under City laws. So here’s a quick reminder of the steps to a Philadelphia Airbnb license:
Make sure your Philly Airbnb or Vrbo is located in the right zoning district
Each piece of land in Philly is assigned to a zoning district. That zoning district has rules telling you how you can and can’t use your parcel. It might even have an overlay district with more rules about what you can and can’t do with the land.
Even before the Philadelphia Airbnb license was created (again, back in 2021!), it was still illegal to use a unit as an Airbnb if the property’s zoning didn’t allow that activity. You must register the use of the place before you start renting it out on Vrbo or Booking.com or Arbnb.
There are two types of zoning involved here:
Zoning that allows you to use your own home as a Philly Airbnb
This is the easiest way to get a license for short-term rental: loan out your own personal space (or part of it) on Airbnb, Booking.com, or whatever else. The City of Philadelphia calls this “Limited Lodging,” and they’ll let you do it anywhere you actually live:* you can rent out an apartment, for example, only if you live there. You can’t get that apartment zoned for Limited Lodging if you own it but don’t live in it.
*Okay, it’s Philly: not truly anywhere; see below…
There’s a catch for renters: if you want to use your rented apartment as a Vrbo, you still need approval from your landlord. Philly wants to see your damn lease (really).
Oh, and if you’re a renter, you can’t get a zoning permit for Limited Lodging at all in the Tenth Councilmanic District (the far Northeast). In this area, the primary resident must also own the property to qualify for an Airbnb license. No renters posting on Vrbo in the Tenth! (We don’t know why; maybe Brian O’Neil just doesn’t think renters can be trusted.)
Zoning that allows you to use any property you own or rent, even if you don’t live there, as a Philly Airbnb
If you want to list a space on Airbnb but you don’t live there, you have one other option: register the place as a hotel!
That sounds wild, but this is the rule Philly developed for Airbnbs outside of someone’s own home: they are treated, for zoning purposes, as hotels. Once you have a permit for use as a hotel, you can go ahead and list the place on Vrbo and all the other short-term rental platforms.
This is probably the sticking point for a lot of Airbnb operators in Philadelphia: it’s likely that most of the units at risk of removal from the platform are located in residentially-zoned areas where hotels aren’t allowed; at least not without a variance (which can take up to a year). The City of Philadelphia is simply barring a lot of people from operating an Airbnb on their property or in a rented apartment, and barring them on purpose.
If you operate an Airbnb, this all probably sounds outrageous; but the City has received a lot of complaints about Airbnbs over the years and is attempting to respond to them. If you want them to scale back these new laws, you need to take it up with City Council! Pressure on Council created these regulations, and it might eventually ease them.
Set up your Philly Airbnb as a legal business
Whether you’re going to offer limited lodging or a “hotel” Airbnb, you need to pay taxes on the operation. This means you need to have a Commercial Activity License and a Philadelphia Tax ID on file with the City of Philadelphia. You also must file the Net Profits Tax, the Business Income and Receipts tax, and – if you have employees – the notorious Wage Tax.
Now, the City of Philadelphia also instituted a Hotel Tax for any lodging outside typical residential rental. If you use Airbnb, Vrbo, or another major platform, you do not need to think twice about this: the platform will pay the tax on all the short-term rentals in Philly. However, if you want to work outside of Airbnb, by offering short-term rentals through your own app or website, you have to make sure to collect the Hotel Tax! Check out the Hotel Tax reference page on the City’s website for more information.
Get the correct license for your Philly Airbnb
When we at Permit Philly casually mention the “Airbnb license,” we really mean two different licenses, which match the zoning categories noted above: you can get a license for Airbnb in your own residence, or you can get a different license to rent rooms as a hotel. The main thing to know is that just because you have the right zoning and the proper business licenses doesn’t mean you’re finished: you also need to apply for the license itself!
(The second thing to know: if you are operating a “hotel,” you need to meet the typical requirements of a commercial building – even in your own home. Make sure you have proper occupancy documents matching the zoning before you apply for a hotel license!)
And if you need help with the Philadelphia Airbnb License…
Please feel free to contact Permit Philly! You can give us a call at (267)744-4200 or send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can obtain a Philly Airbnb license for your own residence in no time, and help you figure out whether a hotel license is feasible for your property – and we get that license for you, too!
Note: this guide was written in April 2022. The information is current as of 2023, but some of the references to the “new” Airbnb license might surprise people who know the license has been around for a while.
For those who have been operating an Airbnb or Vrbo in Philly, the new Philadelphia Airbnb license effective April 1st might seem like a bad April Fools’ joke. Alas, City Council isn’t laughing: the city is instituting a new license for “limited lodging,” which means a Philly Airbnb license is now required to legally rent out your space on an app.
Airbnb licenses aren’t new: short-term rentals are often contentious in any city with a sizable tourism economy (be happy we’re not Barcelona!). Whether residents are complaining about noise and litter, city officials want to get some tax dollars, or old-timers are worried about tourists in their neighborhoods, it’s only a matter of time before a city of Philly’s size slaps a permit on Airbnb (or Vrbo) operations. Other towns have required an Airbnb license for years – it’s just new to us (or it was in April 2022).Continue reading “The Philadelphia Airbnb License Guide”
Happy New Year from Permit Philly! We don’t want to shock you, but we have something terrible to report: 2020 was a bad year. I’m sorry you had to hear it from us. But bad years aren’t the same as unimportant years, and in 2020 there were a lot of important changes to the Philadelphia permit process that will affect development in 2021. Here are the most important: the top 5 changes to the Philadelphia permitting process for 2021.Continue reading “Top 5 Changes to the Philadelphia Permitting Process for 2021”
NOTE: This post was initially written in June 2020. This information is now mostly out of date — check out our later blog post from January 2023 for the latest changes to outdoor dining laws.
The biggest moments in life sear our memories: weddings, holidays, cross-country moves. In much the same way I’ll remember my first kiss, I’ll always mark June 11, 2020, as the first time Licenses and Inspections in made a permit easier to get. Because on that day, L&I announced that they will allow restaurants to apply for outdoor seating permits in Philadelphia – and review those applications in three days.Continue reading “Outdoor Seating Permits for Restaurants During Coronavirus Restrictions”
Welcome to Year 48 of the pandemic afterscape! While we spend most of our time in the bunkers we used to call our homes, Licenses and Inspections is still churning out permits remotely. Here’s the latest update we have about Philly permits during the coronavirus shutdown.Continue reading “Coronavirus and Philly Permits III”
Greetings from Permit Philly’s top secret quarantine lair! We are furiously washing our hands and really getting deep into Netflix’s recommended list of Intense Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead. (It’s mostly Salt. Don’t judge.) We hope you and yours are safe, but also hope we can use some of this newly free time to let you know what’s happening to Philadelphia permits during the COVID-19 shutdown. [UPDATE: Construction is legal again as of May 1st; however, there are a lot of limitations on the sort of construction that can continue. Notably, only permits issued on or before March 20 allow construction for now. Review Philadelphia’s guide to restarting construction right here. You can also read the Governor’s order for reopening construction sites. Philly city offices are still closed, so read on for an explanation of how permits are being processed during the closure.]Continue reading “Coronavirus and Philadelphia Permits (Update)”
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!Read more
This was written shortly before L&I closed its permit center and review boards on March 16th, 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak. For an update on this situation and other permit regulations, please see our blog here.
If you’ve read this blog, you might have marveled at the complexity of Philadelphia permits. Maybe not the way that you might marvel at a sunrise, but definitely the way you gawk at a the 76 interchange with the Vine Street Expressway at rush hour: there’s a lot happening, very slowly, in a creaky system designed decades ago, and everyone involved is a little testy. And even though there’s always renovation, big problems in the system are never solved. In the Philly permit system, one of the glaring problems is that you can’t submit applications online. But that’s changing: finally, after literal years of delay and false starts (this really is like highway construction, now that I think about it), Philadelphia permits are going online.Continue reading “Philadelphia Permits Go Online!”